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Millard  Sheets 

Interviewed  by  George  M.  Goodwin 


Completed  under  the  auspices 

of  the 

Oral  History  Program 

University  of  California 

Los  Angeles 

Copyright  @  1977 
The  Regents  of  the  University  of  California 

This  manuscript  is  hereby  made  available  for  research 
purposes  only.   All  literary  rights  in  the  manuscript, 
including  the  right  to  publication,  are  reserved  to  the 
University  Library  of  the  University  of  California  at 
Los  Angeles.   No  part  of  the  manuscript  may  be  quoted 
for  publication  without  the  written  permission  of  the 
University  Librarian  of  the  University  of  California 
at  Los  Angeles. 


This  interview  is  one  of  a  series,  entitled  "Los  Angeles 
Art  Community:   Group  Portrait,"  funded  by  the  National 
Endowment  for  the  Humanities  and  conducted  from  July  1, 
1975  to  March  31,  1977  by  the  UCLA  Oral  History  Program. 
The  project  was  directed  jointly  by  Page  Ackerman, 
University  Librarian,  and  Gerald  Nordland,  Director, 
UCLA  Art  Galleries,  and  administered  by  Bernard  Galm, 
Director,  Oral  History  Program,   After  selection  of 
interview  candidates  and  interviewers,  the  Program 
assumed  responsibility  for  the  conduct  of  all  interviews 
and  their  processing. 


Introduction viii 

Interview  History  xvii 

TAPE  NUMBER:   I,  Side  One  (November  11,  1976)  ....  1 

Birth  in  Pomona,  California — Upbringing  by 
grandparents--Family  background--Art  lessons 
and  schooling — Meeting  Theodore  Modra  at  the 
Los  Angeles  County  Fair — Meeting  Clarence 
Hinkle — High  school  art  and  other  studies — 
Church,  Boy  Scouts,  and  YMCA — Decision  to 
attend  Chouinard  Art  Institute — Mrs.  Nelbert 
Chouinard — Chouinard:   curriculum — Students — 
Faculty--Los  Angeles  as  an  art  center:   museums 
and  galleries — Earl  Stendahl . 

TAPE  NUMBER:   I,  Side  Two  (November  17,  1976)  ....  27 

Cowie  Gallery — Initial  contact  with  Dalzell 
Hatf ield--First  exhibition — Edgar  B.  Davis 
Prize--Other  prizes--Setting  up  a  studio  with 
Phil  Dike — Cutting  classes  to  paint  a  Gypsy 
encampment — Trip  with  Bill  Veale  to  Central 
and  South  America--Meeting  with  Cass  Gilbert 
in  New  York--Traveling  in  Europe  with  friend 
from  Chouinard — European  museums — Acceptance 
at  Autumn  Salon  in  Paris — Experiences  in  Paris 
lithography  workshop — Return:   exhibition  at 

TAPE  NUMBER:   II,  Side  One  (November  30,  1976)  ....  54 

Teaching:   at  the  University  of  Hawaii,  the 
University  of  California — At  Stickney  Art 
Institute,  Pasadena--At  Chouinard — Sources 
of  watercolor  painting--Techniques  of  painting 
a  watercolor--Importance  of  drawing  as  a 
discipline — Using  models  in  teaching — Devising 
new  drawing  assignments--Qualities  of  a  painter 
— Exposing  students  to  a  variety  of  materials. 

TAPE  NUMBER:   II,  Side  Two  (November  30,  1976)  ....  83 

Need  of  artists  for  exposure  to  media  and 
materials — Artists  and  the  future — Articulating 

a  philosophy  of  art  education — Chouinard  in  the 
twenties  and  thirties — Mrs.  Chouinard — Later 
Disney  support  of  the  institute--Scripps  College: 
mural  comniission--Acting  prof essorship--Building 
a  house  in  Claremont — Hartley  Alexander--Tuesday 
nights  at  the  Alexander  home--Alexander ' s  essay 
on  van  Gogh — Humanities  program  at  Scripps . 

TAPE  NUMBER:   III,  Side  One  (December  4,  1976)  ....  110 

Scripps:   need  for  studio  facilities — President 
Ernst  Jaqua  proposes  a  Fine  Arts  Foundation — 
Mrs.  Florence  Lang:   visits  and  subsequent 
gifts  of  buildings — Fine  Arts  Foundation — 
National  ceramics  shows — Background  of  Mrs. 
Lang--Art  faculty  at  Scripps--The  graduate 
program--Summer  sessions--Prominent  graduates — 
Jack  Zajac — Tom  Van  Sant — Educating  the  artist. 

TAPE  NUMBER:   III,  Side  Two  (December  4,  1976)  ....  137 

Hiring  professionals  as  f aculty--Faculty  unity 
— Contribution  of  Albert  Stewart--Innovativeness 
and  individuality  of  style--Teaching  the 
fundamentals--Opposition  to  present  art  teaching 
methodology--Teacher,  administrator,  artist — 
Lecture  tours  for  Association  of  American 
Colleges--Visiting  Grant  Wood  in  Iowa--Lecturing 
at  black  colleges--Martinez  mural  at  Scripps — 
Orozco  mural  at  Pomona  College. 

TAPE  NUMBER:   IV,  Side  One  (December  4,  1976)   ....  162 

Orozco  mural  at  Pomona  [cont 'd] --Lebrun  mural 
at  Pomona — Siqueiros  in  Los  Angeles--Foreign 
influences — Building  a  home  in  Padua  Hills. 

[Second  Part]   (December  10,  1976)  .  .  .  173 

Commission  to  design  an  air  school — Artistic 
and  structural  details — Decision  to  build 
other  schools — Later  FBI  investigation  of 
contracting  procedures--Experimentation  with 
rammed  earth--Invitation  from  War  Department 
to  become  combat  artist — Cancellation  of  war 
artists  program. 

TAPE  NUMBER:   IV,  Side  Two  (December  10,  1976)  ....  188 

Hired  by  Life  as  war  correspondent — To  India 
from  Los  Angeles  by  ship--Gunnery  practice 

and  serving  watches — Building  furniture  in 
spare  time--Sea  stories — Painting  a  mural  for 
crew's  gallery — More  sea  stories — Arrival  in 
Hobart,  Tasmania,  harbor — Encounter  with 
drunken  captain — Arrival  in  Madras,  India — 
Running  aground — First  sight  of  India: 
floating  bodies  in  the  river. 

TAPE  NUMBER:   V,  Side  One  (December  10,  1976) 213 

Calcutta:   overcrowding  and  famine — New  Delhi: 
meeting  the  viceroy  of  India — Friendship  with 
viceroy's  aide — Lord  and  Lady  Wavell — 
Exhibition  of  war  artists — Meeting  Lord 
Mountbatten — Taken  to  the  Arakan  front — 
Chittagong — British  fliers — Battle  of  Bamboo 
Hill — Tony  Beauchamp — Premature  bombing  attack 
--Brushes  with  death — Lucien  Labaudt  embarks 
(in  Sheet's  place)  for  China. 

TAPE  NUMBER:   V,  Side  Two  (December  10,  1976) 238 

Labaudt  killed  en  route — Tragedies  of 
correspondents--Accompanying  longest  flight 
mission  of  war--Desire  to  contest  demotion 
of  General  Stilwell — Decision  to  return  to 
New  York — Departure  from  New  Delhi — The  long 
way  home:   tour  of  Middle  East — Ups  and  downs 
of  return  flights — Rendezvous  with  wife — New 
York:   meeting  with  Life  staff — Return  to 
Southern  California--Breaking  Stilwell  story 
against  White  House  orders — Resignation  from 

TAPE  NUMBER:   VI,  Side  One  (December  13,  1976)  ....  264 

The  Los  Angeles  County  Fair:   assisting 
Theodore  Modra--Invitation  to  direct  the  art 
program — Purpose  of  the  art  show — Juries  and 
prizes — Postwar  change  of  format — "One  World 
of  Art"  exhibition--Guided  tour  for  Governor 
Warren — Arthur  Millier's  assistance — "5,000 
Years  of  Art  in  Clay"  exhibition — "Western 
Living"  exhibition — Collaboration  among 
artists,  architects,  and  decorators — The 
finance  of  collecting--Calculating  an 
artist's  fee. 

TAPE  NUMBER:   VI,  Side  Two  (December  13,  1976)  ....  289 

Need  for  mass  art  education--Developing 
interest  through  collecting — Art  education 

today — "Painting  in  the  United  States" 
exhibition:   showing  abstract  painters — The 
County  Museum  and  the  county  fair — Dr.  William 
R.  Valentiner — Grace  Nicholson  and  the  Pasadena 
museum--Gifts  to  museums — The  Huntington  Art 
Gallery — Growing  problems  with  the  county  fair 
— Conflict  over  photography  show — Subsequent 
development  of  art  at  the  fair — "California 
Design"  exhibitions  at  Pasadena  museum--Sam 
Maloof,  furniture  designer--Serving  on  national 
exhibition  juries — Incident  at  the  Metropolitan, 


Millard  Sheets,  one  of  America's  most  ambitious, 
prolific,  and  successful  artists,  was  born  on  January  24, 
1907,  in  Pomona,  California,  the  son  of  John  and  Milly 
(Owen)  Sheets.   Though  primarily  a  painter,  he  has  pursued 
careers  as  an  educator,  architectural  designer,  correspondent, 
diplomat,  and  collector. 

His  mother  died  in  childbirth,  and  he  was  reared  by  his 
maternal  grandparents  and  young  aunts  on  a  working  ranch 
east  of  Los  Angeles.   As  a  child.  Sheets  loved  horses  and 
the  out-of-doors,  and  from  the  age  of  three  began  to  draw. 
He  was  not  only  a  good  student  but  was  deeply  involved  in 
sports.  Boy  Scouts,  and  the  YMCA. 

Sheets 's  childhood  art  abilities  were  nurtured  by 
several  individuals  and  favorable  situations.   He  took 
drawing  and  painting  lessons  from  a  neighboring  hobbyist, 
had  a  perceptive  teacher  in  junior  high  school,  and  was 
granted  time  away  from  high  school  to  paint.   Even  more 
influential  were  monthly  criticism  sessions,  offered  on  an 
individual  basis  by  two  professional  artists,  Theodore  B. 
Modra  in  Claremont  and  Clarence  Hinkle  in  Laguna  Beach. 

Though  he  planned  to  enroll  as  a  freshman  at  Pomona 
College,  he  was  persuaded  to  study  at  an  art  school,  where 
professional-level  courses  would  be  available.   Consequently, 
he  became  a  student  at  the  Chouinard  Art  Institute  in  Los 

Angeles,  to  which  he  conunuted  daily  on  the  Red  Car.   He 

took  the  required  courses  in  drawing,  painting,  and  design, 

but  quickly  developed  an  interest  in  watercolor  painting. 

So  enthralled  with  this  portable  and  flexible  medium,  he 

occasionally  skipped  class  to  paint  in  picturesque  locations. 

He  also  received  basic  instruction  in  mural  painting  as  well 

as  an  exposure  to  the  history  of  art  from  F.  Tolles  Chamberlain. 

At  the  end  of  his  second  year.  Sheets  was  advanced  to 
instructor.   He  specialized  in  watercolor  painting,  but  he 
also  taught  delineation  to  architects.   In  1928,  Sheets  was 
approached  by  Dalzell  Hatfield  for  representation  by  his 
gallery,  a  progressive  one,  located  near  the  Chouinard 
campus.   A  one-man  exhibition,  which  was  a  huge  success, 
followed  in  1929.   Amazingly,  Sheets  has  maintained  his 
relationship  with  the  Hatfield  Gallery  throughout  his 
career,  selling,  he  estimates,  over  3,000  paintings. 

Also  in  1929,  Sheets  won  the  $1,750  Davis  Prize  from 
the  Witte  Museum  in  San  Antonio,  Texas.   This  enormous  sum 
permitted  him  to  take  a  cruise  to  Central  and  South  America, 
which  was  followed  by  a  six-month  journey  throughout  Europe. 
In  addition  to  visiting  the  major  museiams  and  monuments 
of  France,  Germany,  the  Netherlands,  and  Spain,  he  drew  and 
painted  continually.   In  Paris  he  was  admitted  to  the 
Autumn  Salon  and  was  introduced  to  lithography  by  working  in 
a  studio.   Sheets  ended  his  trip  prematurely,  however,  to 


return  to  Los  Angeles  to  marry  Mary  Baskerville,  an  art 
student  at  UCLA. 

Though  he  continued  a  variety  of  part-time  teaching 
assignments  at  Stickney  Art  Institute  in  Pasadena,  the 
universities  of  California  (Berkeley)  and  Hawaii,  and 
Chouinard  until  1935,  Sheets  became  affiliated  with  Scripps 
College  in  1931.   Originally  invited  to  paint  a  mural,  he 
later  received  a  one-year  teaching  appointment.   This  led 
to  a  twenty-three-year  tenure  as  chairman  of  the  art 
department,  through  which  he  established  a  dynamic  program 
for  professional  artists  and  humanities  students. 

Sheets  was  deeply  influenced  by  his  relationship  with 
Professor  Hartley  Alexander,  a  senior  philosopher  who  was 
concerned  about  educating  artists  in  a  liberal  tradition. 
He  attended  weekly  discussions  in  Alexander's  home  for  more 
than  five  years  and  implemented  many  of  his  concepts. 

Perhaps  the  most  tangible  sign  of  Sheets 's  impact  on  the 
Scripps  campus  was  the  development  of  the  Lang  Art  Center. 
Because  there  were  inadequate  studio  facilities,  he  endeavored 
to  build  new  quarters.   Ultimately  his  wildest  dreams  were 
fulfilled  by  three  large  gifts  from  Mrs.  Florence  Lang  as 
well  as  the  establishment  of  a  Fine  Arts  Foundation. 

Sheets  introduced  the  MFA  degree  to  train  professional 
artists,  and  increased  the  faculty  and  student  body 
several  times  over.   In  addition  to  offering  courses  in 

drawing,  painting,  design,  and  sculpture,  he  emphasized 
architecture  and  ceramics  and  introduced  a  popular  siimmer 
session.   The  college  produced  dozens  of  prominent  graduates, 
including  Jack  Zajac,  a  winner  of  the  Prix  de  Rome,  though 
Sheets  claims  that  there  was  not  a  pervasive  Scripps  style. 
Versatility,  he  hopes,  is  their  trademark. 

In  1954,  while  recovering  from  a  serious  horseback- 
riding  injury.  Sheets  was  consulted  on  the  continuing 
development  of  Los  Angeles  County's  art  school,  Otis  Art 
Institute.   He  argued  that  a  dramatic  overhaul  was  needed 
to  produce  a  professionally  sound  program.   He  originally 
agreed  to  serve  as  acting  director  but  later  left  Scripps 
to  become  the  full-time  director  of  Otis  in  1955. 

As  director.  Sheets  vastly  expanded  the  physical  plant, 
hired  a  new  faculty,  required  advanced  standing  by  entering 
students,  and  emphasized  the  MFA  degree  as  well  as  liberal 
arts  courses.   A  gallery  program,  featuring  historical  and 
contemporary  exhibitions,  was  also  introduced.   Although 
Sheets  was  pleased  with  the  growth  of  the  school,  he  was 
frustrated  by  the  board  of  governors  and  county  government, 
and  distracted  by  his  numerous  other  commitments.   Though 
he  resigned  as  director  in  1962,  he  was  awarded  an  honorary 
MFA  degree  and  remained  a  trustee.   He  has  also  served  as 
a  trustee  of  Scripps,  California  Institute  of  the  Arts, 
and  Art  Center  School. 


Although  he  had  painted  murals  early  in  his  career, 
including  a  fresco  for  South  Pasadena  Junior  High  School  and 
an  entire  cycle  for  the  Golden  Gate  Exposition  in  San 
Francisco,  Sheets 's  work  in  this  field  did  not  accelerate 
until  the  mid~1950s.   At  this  time  he  became  involved,  in 
a  highly  idiosyncratic  manner,  with  Howard  Ahmanson  in  the 
design  of  offices  for  Home  Savings.   The  success  of  Sheets ' s 
designs,  which  included  architecture  as  well  as  landscaping 
and  decoration,  was  immediate.   To  Ahmanson,  the  offices 
were  not  only  refreshing  but  became  highly  profitable 
investments.   Consequently,  Sheets  has  designed  over  forty 
offices  for  Home  Savings  throughout  California.   In 
completing  these  and  other  commissions  in  Arizona  and 
Texas,  he  has  established  an  artistic  workshop  comparable  to 
a  Renaissance  studio,  employing  mosaic  makers,  stained- 
glass  makers,  mural  painters,  and  architects.   Though  he 
remains  director  of  design  for  Home  Savings,  he  is  planning 
to  devote  less  time  to  this  endeavor,  concentrating  instead 
on  his  own  painting. 

In  addition  to  Home  Savings  offices,  Millard  Sheets 
has  executed  major  architectural  and  design  commissions 
throughout  the  United  States.   In  1962,  he  won  a  competition, 
through  funds  provided  by  the  National  Academy  of  Design, 
to  design  a  mosaic  mural  for  the  Detroit  Public  Library. 
His  subject,  portrayed  in  heroic  figures,  illustrates 


the  great  periods  of  learning  exemplified  by  a  library. 
In  1965,  he  designed  a  mosaic  mural  for  a  dome  in  the 
National  Shrine  in  Washington,  D.C.   Other  commissions 
include  a  pair  of  tile  murals  representing  the  civili- 
zations of  man  and  the  history  of  California,  for  the 
annex  to  the  Los  Angeles  City  Hall.   These  latter  projects 
were  executed  while  he  was  director  of  design  for  the 
Interpace  company,  through  which  he  directed  the  develop- 
ment of  new  techniques  for  producing  glazes. 

Millard  Sheets ' s  most  monumental  commission  is,  no 
doubt,  the  mural  he  designed  for  the  library  facade  of  the 
University  of  Notre  Dame  in  Indiana.   Measuring  approximately 
9,000  square  feet,  this  mural  was  made  out  of  granite  in 
order  to  withstand  extreme  weather  conditions.   As  such,  an 
entire  technology  had  to  be  invented  in  order  to  design 
the  individual  granite  pieces,  then  cut,  transport,  and 
install  them.   Following  three  years  of  careful  supervision, 
the  immense  mural,  portraying  Christ  and  great  scholars  of 
the  world,  was  unveiled  in  South  Bend  in  1963.   Sheets  was 
awarded  an  honorary  LLD  degree  and  has  subsequently 
developed  additional  uses  for  granite  in  his  murals. 

Two  other  major  commissions  he  has  produced  are  designs 
for  the  Scottish  Rite  Masonic  Temples  in  Los  Angeles  and 
San  Francisco.   The  Los  Angeles  commission  represented  an 
entire  architectural  statement,  but  both  demanded  extensive 


interior  and  exterior  decoration.   Customarily,  these 
included  sculptures  as  well  as  painted  and  mosaic  murals. 

Millard  Sheets 's  work  as  an  architectural  designer 
actually  began  on  the  eve  of  World  War  II,  when  he  designed 
seventeen  flight  schools  for  the  air  force.   These  were 
not  only  functional  but  contained  numerous  artistic  details 
and  were  built  in  record  time.   Sheets ' s  other  wartime 
activity,  however,  consisted  of  service  as  a  correspondent- 
illustrator  for  Life  magazine.   He  was  assigned  to  the 
India-China-Burma  theater,  where,  through  personal  initiative, 
he  was  sent  into  the  heart  of  combat. 

He  was  involved  with  international  affairs  on  three 
more  occasions  following  World  War  II.   In  1958,  he  served 
as  a  combat  artist  for  the  air  force  in  covering  hostilities 
between  Nationalist  and  Communist  China.   In  1960  and  1961, 
he  was  sent  to  Turkey  and  the  Soviet  Union  by  the  State 
Department.   Accompanied  by  his  wife,  he  traveled  throughout 
these  countries,  visiting  artists,  lecturing,  and  giving 
demonstrations.   Though  fond  of  the  Russian  people,  he  is 
deeply  opposed  to  their  form  of  government,  particularly 
censorship  and  propaganda.   Sheets  was  also  critical  of 
the  State  Department  for  perpetuating  fears  and  ignorance. 

In  addition  to  his  regular  duties  of  teaching,  painting, 
and  designing.  Sheets  was  director  of  the  art  program  at  the 
Los  Angeles  County  Fair  from  1931  to  1958.   Originally  a 


teenage  assistant  to  its  director,  he  later  developed  his 
own  programs,  which  included  increased  prizes,  more 
professional  juries,  and  enlarged  exhibition  spaces.   Sheets 
eventually  replaced  the  annual  exhibitions  for  local 
artists  with  a  series  of  major  exhibitions,  for  which 
objects  were  borrowed  nationally  and  internationally.   Such 
exhibitions  as  "One  World  of  Art,"  "6000  Years  of  Clay," 
and  "Painting  in  the  United  States"  were  comparable  to 
the  best  exhibitions  available  in  Southern  California 
museums.   "Western  Living,"  presented  in  collaboration  with 
House  Beautiful  magazine,  was  particularly  intended  to 
upgrade  the  tastes  of  casual  fair  visitors. 

Millard  Sheets  also  presented  numerous  exhibitions  while 
at  Scripps  College,  including  a  ceramics  annual  which 
continues  to  this  day.   He  has  also  served  as  a  purchaser  for 
Bullock's  department  stores  when  an  attempt  was  made  to 
establish  a  comprehensive  art  program.   Most  recently, 
however.  Sheets  has  been  involved  with  collecting  as  a 
trustee  of  the  Virginia  Steele  Scott  Foundation  in  Pasadena. 
A  long-time  friend  of  Mrs.  Scott,  who  established  a  gallery 
in  her  home,  he  is  presently  changing  the  nature  of  the 
collection,  with  the  intention  of  building  a  distinguished 
collection  of  American  painting.   His  goal  is  about  100 
works  as  well  as  the  construction  of  new  quarters. 

Himself  an  art  collector  with  broad  and  exotic  tastes. 


Sheets  is  primarily  devoted  to  pre-Columbian  sculpture 
and  ceramics,  he  has  also  collected  Chinese  sculpture, 
Japanese  screens,  sea  shells,  and  butterflies. 

His  extensive  collection  is  displayed  in  a  large 
gallery  on  his  estate.  Barking  Rocks,  in  Mendocino  County, 
California.   Purchased  in  1958,  the  seaside  retreat  also 
contains  a  main  house,  guest  house,  studio,  and  aviary,  and 
is  frequently  visited  by  his  four  children  and  fifteen 
grandchildren.   Although  there  are  several  family  pets, 
his  racing  and  show  horses,  which  have  been  a  constant 
family  interest,  are  stabled  elsewhere. 

An  overview  of  Millard  Sheets 's  painting  can  be  obtained 
from  approximately  sixty  works  in  the  Steele  Foundation 
collection.   These  include  oils  and  watercolors  of  the 
1930s  and  acrylics  and  a  tapestry  of  the  1960s.   Sheets  is 
primarily  a  representational  artist  and  remains  attached  to 
nature:   landscape,  animals,  and  people.   Having  traveled 
throughout  the  world,  however,  he  has  painted  foreign  as 
well  as  familiar  subjects.   Originally  fascinated  by  the 
interplay  of  light  and  dark  and  the  importance  of  structure, 
he  has  been  more  recently  intrigued  by  color.   He  currently 
works  in  a  fanciful  and  romantic  manner. 

George  M.  Goodwin 

Los  Angeles,  California 



INTERVIEWER:   George  M.  Goodwin,  Interviewer-Editor, 
UCLA  Oral  History  Program  (for  "L.A.  Art  Community: 
Group  Portrait").   BA,  Art  History,  Lake  Forest 
College;  MA,  Art  History,  Columbia  University; 
PhD,  Art  Education,  Stanford  University.   Acting 
Curator  of  Education,  Los  Angeles  County  Museum 
of  Art,  1975-76. 


Place;   Apartment  of  Millard  Sheets,  333  West 
California  Boulevard,  Pasadena.   The  video  session 
was  conducted  at  Barking  Rocks,  Mr.  Sheets 's  home 
in  Gualala,  California,  and  at  the  Virginia  Steele 
Scott  Foundation  in  Pasadena. 

Dates:   November  17,  30,  December  4,  10,  13,  1976; 
January  1,  6,  13,  16,  February  5,  6,  9  [video 
sessions] ,  1977 . 

Time  of  day,  length  of  sessions,  and  total  number 
of  recording  hours:   Interviews  took  place  generally 
in  the  late  afternoon;  sessions  averaged  two  hours 
in  length.   Approximately  sixteen  hours  were 

Persons  present  during  the  interview:   Sheets  and 
Goodwin.   Nancy  Olexo  was  present  at  the  video 
sessions  to  operate  equipment. 


The  interviewer  pursued  a  full  biographical  study, 
with  broad  coverage  of  the  interviewee's  multifaceted 
career.   Each  session  was  devoted  to  a  particular 
topic,  though  an  outline  was  not  used.   The  inter- 
viewee spoke  in  great  detail  about  a  wide  range  of 
topics.   His  work  as  a  painter,  however,  was  not 
particularly  emphasized. 


Editing  was  done  by  the  interviewer.   The  verbatim 
transcript  of  the  interview  was  checked  against  the 
original  tape  recordings  and  edited  for  punctuation, 
paragraphing,  correct  spelling,  and  verification  of 
proper  and  place  names.   This  final  manuscript 


remains  in  the  same  order  as  the  original  taped 
material.   Words  and  phrases  added  by  the  editor 
appear  in  brackets. 

Mr.  Sheets  reviewed  and  approved  the  edited 
transcript.   He  made  a  number  of  corrections  and 
additions,  and  he  supplied  spellings  of  some  names 
not  previously  verified. 

The  interviewer  wrote  the  introduction.   The  index 
was  prepared  by  Lawrence  Weschler,  Assistant  Editor, 
Oral  History  Program.   Other  front  matter  was 
prepared  by  the  Program  staff. 


The  original  tape  recordings,  video  tape,  and 
edited  transcript  are  in  the  University  Archives 
and  are  available  under  the  regulations  governing 
the  use  of  permanent  noncurrent  records  of  the 
University . 

Records  relating  to  the  interview  are  located  in 
the  office  of  the  Oral  History  Program. 


NOVEMBER  11,  1976 

GOODWIN:   Mr.  Sheets,  I'd  like  you  to  tell  us  first 
about  your  family  background. 

SHEETS:   Well,  George,  I  had  an  unusual  experience.   I 
was  born  in  Pomona  (which  is  not  so  unusual) ,  but  my 
mother  [Milly  Owen  Sheets]  died  when  I  was  born,  and  I 
grew  up  with  my  grandfather  [Louis  Owen]  and  grandmother 
[Emma  Owen] ,  both  of  whom — fortunately  for  me,  I  think — 
were  very  young.   I  think  my  grandfather  was  thirty-eight 
and  my  grandmother  thirty-seven  when  I  was  born.   My 
mother  was  their  oldest  child,  and  they  had  four  daughters, 
So  when  I  came  along  and  came  to  live  with  them,  they 
spoiled  the  hell  out  of  me  because  I  was  the  first  son 
in  the  family.   My  grandfather  grew  up  in  the  days  where 
every  man  thought  he  should  have  a  son.   So  from  the  time 
I  was  a  very  small  child,  probably  three,  we  rode  horse- 
back together,  and  every  year  I  got  a  bigger  horse,  a 
better  horse.   He  raised  racehorses,  and  all  the  things 
that  I've  loved  all  my  life  I  grew  up  with.   I  knew  all 
about  the  breeding  and  the  whole  business  of  raising 
horses  from  the  time  I  was  four  or  five  years  old.   It 
was  a  very  fortunate  relationship  for  me  because  my 
grandmother  and  grandfather  were  extremely  interested 
in  anything  I  wanted  to  do. 

I  had  two  aunts  that  were  still  at  home,  unmarried, 
when  I  was  born.   One  of  them  became,  I  guess,  a  built-in 
baby-sitter,  Aunt  Frances  [later  Frances  Johnson],  who 
probably  was  twelve  or  thirteen  when  I  was  born.   In 
order  to,  I  suppose,  keep  me  out  of  her  hair,  she  would 
sit  down  and  do  a  little  doodling  when  I  was  about  three, 
and  I  would  doodle  all  day  without  bothering  anyone.   I 
think  just  because  of  that  peculiar  incident,  by  the  time 
I  arrived  in  kindergarten,  I  seemed  to  have  a  little  more 
of  what  they  called  talent.   Of  course  it  wasn't;  it  was 
just  experience.   From  the  time  I  went  into  kindergarten 
straight  through  grade  school,  that  continued  to  follow 
me,  as  something  that  each  teacher  expected  me  to  do  more 
and  more.   I  remember  in  first  grade  illustrating  prac- 
tically everything  we  did  in  history  on  the  big  chalk 
boards,  and  it  was  just  a  natural  thing  that  I  grew  into 
because,  I  think,  of  my  very  early  start."  Then  when  she 
married,  she  and  her  husband  [Ebert  Johnson]  were  just 
marvelous  to  me.   They  were  almost  like  a  second  father 
and  mother  in  a  way.   I  spent  a  great  deal  of  time  with 
them.   They  were  both  interested  in  the  fact  that  I 
started  to  paint  when  I  was  nine.   I  guess  it  just  never 
occurred  to  me  to  do  anything  else.   It  just  grew  like 

GOODWIN:   Let's  back  up  a  little  bit.   Where  did  your 
ancestors  come  from? 

SHEETS:   My  father's  family  was  a  mixture  of  German  and 
English.   The  German  side,  starting  in  Heidelberg  eight 
or  ten  generations  before,  had  settled  in  Pennsylvania 
and  then  came  to  Illinois.   My  father  [John  G.  Sheets] 
met  my  mother  in  South  Dakota,  where  she  was  born.   On 
the  other  side,  my  grandfather's  name  was  Owen.   He  was 
Welsh  and  Scotch.   My  grandmother  was  English  and  Irish. 
They  went  out  there  when,  I  believe,  he  was  seventeen  and 
she  was  sixteen,  pregnant  with  my  mother,  which  of  course 
is  the  reason  that  they  were  so  young  when  I  was  born. 
Although  my  mother,  I  think,  was  twenty-two  when  I  was 
born,  they  had  her  at  a  very  early  age. 

Needless  to  say,  they  had  very  difficult  times  in 
those  early  days.   The  first  year  they  had  a  blizzard 
that  was  so  bad  that  nearly  all  the  people  that  went  out 
there  practically  starved  to  death.   But  my  granddad  was 
the  kind  that  was  never  daunted  by  anything.   He  read  a 
placard  in  the  railroad  station  that  said  anyone  that 
could  stay  with  an  Indian  in  Cheyenne,  Wyoming,  for  three 
hours  in  a  free-for-all  fight  would  get  $300.   So  without 
telling  my  grandmother,  he  rode  the  rods  in  the  middle  of 
winter  to  Cheyenne,  Wyoming,  and  challenged  this  man,  and 
they  had  a  terrible  fight.   They  almost  killed  each  other. 
They  both  ended  up  in  the  hospital,  but  he  stayed  with 
him,  and  that  $300  put  that  whole  group  in  that  one  little 
settlement  through  the  winter,  which  was  the  kind  of  a 

granddad  I  had.   [laughter]   I've  always  been  very  proud 
of  the  fact  that  he  was  never  bothered  by  anything — he 
just  did  it.   But  they  were  real  natural  American  pioneers 
that  had  come,  of  course,  from  Europe — originally,  their 
fainilies--but  many,  many  generations  before. 
GOODWIN:   When  did  your  grandparents  come  to  Southern 

SHEETS:   Well,  it  was  interesting.   My  grandfather,  before 
he  came  here  to  settle,  he  used  to  bring  race  horses  out 
from  Illinois  and  race  against  Lucky  Baldwin  in  the  old 
Santa  Anita  track,  about  1895.   He  fell  in  love  with 
California,  but  he  had  extensive  ranches  by  that  time — or 
farms,  I  guess  they  call  them--in  South  Dakota.   And  it 
wasn't  until  about  1902  that  they  came  to  California  to 
settle  in  Pomona.   It's  so  typical  of  him.   He  brought 
all  of  his  stock  with  him — cattle,  bulls,  horses,  and 
several  carloads  of  other  stock,  prize  stock  he  was 
raising  at  the  time.   He  brought  them  to  California — 
having  sold  all  of  his  farms  in  South  Dakota.   Upon 
arrival  here,  he  bought  extensive  orange  groves  near 
Pomona.   He  spent  one  year  here  and  hated  Southern 
California,  living  here.   So  he  sold  everything  out  in 
Southern  California  and  went  back  to  South  Dakota  and 
bought  farms  again.   Needless  to  say,  he  wasn't  very 
smart  in  some  of  the  purchases  and  sales  because  he  lost 
a  great  deal  of  money  in  the  process.   He  spent  a  year 


and  a  half  in  South  Dakota  and  then  came  back  to  California 
to  stay.   I  think  the  last  time  was  in  1902,  or  possibly 
'03,  when  he  came  here  finally.   And  I  was  born  in  1907. 
GOODWIN:   Do  you  know  why  he  picked  Pomona? 

SHEETS:   Oranges.   It  was  so  famous  in  those  days  nationally 
for  being  the  center  of  the  orange  groves  in  Southern 
California,  which  it  was  in  those  days.   I  guess  the  name 
or  something  appealed  to  them,  and  they  just  came  directly 
to  Pomona  and  then  looked  around  and  settled.   It  was  just 
a  natural  decision,  I  guess.   There  were  no  people  involved 
that  he  knew.   He  just  came  here  and  liked  it  and  came  back 

GOODWIN:   Did  you  have  brothers  and  sisters? 
SHEETS:   No,  my  father  didn't  remarry  for  five  or  six 
years,  and  he  and  my  stepmother  never  had  any  children. 
They  were  very  wonderful  to  me  always  when  I  went  to 
visit,  but  I've  always  felt  that  it  was  a  very  fortunate 
thing  for  me  in  a  way  that  I  grew  up  with  my  grandfather 
and  grandmother  because  they  were  just  more  interested  in 
having  me  do  what  I  wanted  to  do.   My  father  really  was 
terribly  disappointed  because  I  didn't  become  a  baseball 
player,  which  I  used  to  do  in  high  school.   I  played  on 
a  team  that  won  the  state  championship.   My  dad,  I  think, 
always  felt  that  it  was  a  disappointment,  because  he 
loved  baseball.   He  really  thought  that  the  idea  of  an 
art  career  wasn't  too  smart,  but  my  grandfather  and 

grandmother  just  never  wavered  in  support  of  what  I 
wanted  to  do.   So  though  I  was  extremely  close  and  had 
a  wonderful  dad  who  was  a  fine  man  with  a  good  set  of 
values  and  all  that,  it  was  a  very  fortunate  thing  for 
me,  with  my  mother  being  gone  (who  I  think  was  so  much 
like  my  grandfather  and  grandmother) .   I  think  it  was 
much  better  that  it  worked  out  this  way. 
GOODWIN:   What  kind  of  work  did  your  father  do? 
SHEETS:   My  father  was  a  hay  broker.   He  worked  for  a 
very  large  corporation  that  raised  hay  and  very  important 
vegetable  crops  in  the  Imperial  Valley,  and  he  was  the 
man  who  really  had  charge  of  the  marketing  in  the  Los 
Angeles  area.   He  did  that  right  up  until  he  died. 

I  did  have  a  cousin,  however,  who  was  born  nine  days 
after  I  was  born.   My  mother's  next  sister  [Hallie  Owen 
Perrin]  produced  this  cousin  of  mine  nine  days  after  I 
was  born,  and  she  literally  nursed  both  of  us,  so  we 
grew  up  like  twins.   We  were  practically  inseparable 
through  high  school.   We  used  to  go  out  into  my  grand- 
father's hillsides,  which  were  located  where  Kellogg 
Hill  is  now.   If  you  drive  down  the  [San  Bernardino] 
freeway,  that  was  all  land  that  my  grandfather  owned 
and  leased.   I'd  spend  the  summer  there,  all  summer 
herding  cattle,  and  come  home  Saturday  night  for  a 
bath.   And  I  painted.   I  worked  the  fences  and  the 
water  in  the  morning  and  the  horseback,  and  then  every 

afternoon  I  painted,  camped  out  there,  and  it  was  a  great 
thing.   This  cousin  and  I  were  inseparable.   We  really 
grew  up  as  brothers,  very  much  closer  than  most  brothers 

in  that  way. 

GOODWIN:   What  was  his  name? 

SHEETS:   Clarence  Perrin.   His  family  was  also  very 
tolerant  of  the  idea  of  my  becoming  an  artist.   When  my 
dad  didn't  help  me  when  I  was  ready  to  go  to  art  school, 
my  uncle  helped  me.   It  was  really  interesting.   My  dad 
learned  to  be  happy  a  long  time  before  he  died  about  the 
fact  that  I  was  involved  in  art  the  way  I  was,  but  it  was 
just  curious  how  your  whole  life  is  changed  by  a  sad  thing 
like  your  mother's  death. 

GOODWIN:   You  attended  the  local  schools  in  Pomona? 
SHEETS:   Yes,  I  went  through  grade  schools,  kindergarten, 
grade  schools,  and  junior  high  school.   I  think  it  was  in 
junior  high  school  that  I  first  had  a  great  teacher. 
Everybody's  lucky  if  they  have  one  or  two  of  those  in 
their  lifetime,  and  I  had ,  I  think,  maybe  more  than 
average.   I  had  the  most  marvelous  young  woman  who  taught 
art  in  the  junior  high  school  [Helen  Daggs] .   She  had  just 
graduated  from  college,  was  fairly  skillful  herself,  but 
mainly  she  knew  really  what  the  real  art  world  was  about. 
It  was  such  a  thrill.   I  thought  she  not  only  was  the 
most  beautiful  gal  I'd  ever  met,  but  she  had  such  a 
spiritl   For  three  or  four  of  us  in  that  class  she  just 

opened  up  a  whole  world  of  feeling  that  was  remarkable 
for  high  school  age.   It  was  not  merely  doing  busy  things 
and  making  nice  children's  art,  as  they  are  apt  to  do 
today.   She  took  us  out,  we  wandered  through  the  woods 
and  the  hills,  and  we  made  drawings,  and  she  gave  us  the 
real  art  spirit,  which  is  remarkable  for  that  period — at 
least  in  Pomona,  because  there  were  no  museums,  nothing 
here  when  I  grew  up. 
GOODWIN:   Where  had  she  studied? 

SHEETS:   She  had  studied  at  Pomona  College,  and  I  don't 
know  how  she  got  what  she  did  out  of  Pomona  College, 
because  she  was  above  anything  that  I  think  was  going  on 
at  Pomona  College  at  the  time.   [laughter]   But  I've 
always  just  treasured  the  memory  of  that  woman  and  her 
depth  of  feeling  that  was  so  much  beyond  just  teaching 
busy  work  or  exercises  in  art.   We  were  on  our  toes  100 

A  very  funny  thing  happened  about  this  time  or  a 
little  before  that,  maybe  two  years  before  that.   I  had 
been  dabbling  around  in  paint,  and  I  had  been  copying 
pictures,  which  was  about  all  that  you  knew  how  to  do — 
no  one  had  really  suggested  anything  else.   [There  was] 
a  charming  little  woman  [Mrs.  Seward]  that  lived  down  the 
street,  and  I  used  to  stand  when  I  was  quite  young,  maybe 
five  or  six,  and  watch  her  painting  through  the  window. 
I  was  so  moved,  without  knowing  why,  at  the  idea  of  her 

painting.   Of  course,  what  she  was  doing  was  copying 
everything  from  calendars  to  old  reproductions,  and  she 
saw  me  peeking  through  the  window  quite  a  bit,  and  she 
finally  invited  me  in  and  asked  me  if  I'd  like  to  paint. 
So  I  remember  very  distinctly,  for  twenty-five  cents  on 
Saturday  morning,  I  went  down  and  she  gave  me  all  morning, 
teaching  me  how  to  mix  color  and  what  values  meant.   It 
was  obviously  just  mechanical.   So  at  least  by  the  time 
I  got  to  junior  high  school,  I  was  fairly  professional 
in  the  handling  of  brushes.   I  didn't  know  anything  basic 
about  form,  but  I  did  have  a  hell  of  a  desire  and  a  mar- 
velous feeling  that  this  was  my  life. 

The  L.A.  County  Fair  was  started  by  my  uncle,  as  a 
matter  of  fact,  when  I  was  about  thirteen.   I  heard  that 
they  had  an  opening  in  the  fair — it  was  held  in  a  tent 
the  first  year — for  painters  who  did  original  paintings 
and  for  painters  who  made  copies.   So  I  rushed  out  with 
one  of  my  little  copies,  and  I  submitted  it.   [tape 
recorder  turned  off]   I  read  in  the  paper  a  few  days 
later  when  the  fair  had  opened  that  I  had  won  the  first 
prize  in  copying.   I  was  about  twelve,  and  I  went  out 
with  all  of  the  eagerness  in  the  world  to  see  my  painting. 
I  was  standing  in  front  of  it,  needless  to  say,  and 
admiring  it  with  this  big  blue  ribbon  hanging  on  it,  and 
a  very  amazing  man  walked  out  who  was  in  charge  of  the 
exhibition.   He  had  flowing  white  hair,  with  a  bow  tie. 

He  was  actually  from  Europe.   He  had  had  a  marvelous  back- 
ground in  Europe  as  an  artist  in  New  York,  studied  with 
Robert  Henri,  and  he  walked  up  to  me  and  he  said,  in  the 
most  gruff  way,  "Did  you  paint  that  picture?"   I  said, 
"Yes,  I  did."   He  said,  "Come  with  me."   And  he  didn't 
grab  me  by  the  ear,  but  he  grabbed  me  by  the  collar  and 
dragged  me  into  his  office.   I  never  had  such  a  verbal 
licking  in  my  life.   He  said,  "Don't  you  ever -copy  another 
painting  as  long  as  you  live.   You  go  out  and  learn  how  to 
do  things  from  nature."   He  just  read  the  riot  act  to  me. 
He  scared  the  hell  out  of  me.   After  giving  me  the  devil 
for  about  thirty  minutes,  he  said,  "All  right,  now  the 
first  Saturday  of  every  month,  you  come  to  my  studio,  and 
you  bring  some  things  that  you've  done  outdoors,  and  we're 
going  to  get  acquainted.   I'll  give  you  a  criticism." 
Well,  it  was  the  most  marvelous  thing  that  could  have 
happened  to  anyone.   He  was  perhaps  not  a  great  painter, 
but  he  had  a  marvelous  background.   He  had  come  to 
California  and  bought  an  orange  grove  and  only  been  there 
a  year,  and  when  they  started  the  fair,  somehow  or  other 
my  uncle  had  heard  of  him  and  asked  him  to  head  this  show. 
That  man  gave  me  a  Saturday  once  a  month  for  about  three 
or  four  years.   It  was  so  marvelous  in  opening  up,  again, 
the  whole  world  of  art.   He  knew  all  the  top  American 
painters.   That's  where  I  first  heard  of  George  Bellows, 
and  that  was  a  great  experience  for  me  because  he  showed 


me  reproductions  of  George  Bellows,  told  me  many  of  the 
stories  of  when  they  were  at  school  together  with  Robert 
Henri  and  George  Lukes  and  the  whole  group  that  became 
just  idols  to  me  in  a  matter  of  two  or  three  years.   So 
these  are  the  kinds  of  things  you  can't  make  happen,  but 
they  did  happen  just  through  good  fortune  of  the  right 
people,  in  a  sense,  being  there  at  the  right  time  in  my 

GOODWIN:   Do  you  remember  the  teacher's  name? 
SHEETS:   It  was  Theodore  B.  Modra ,  and  he  was  a  painter 
in  his  own  right.   He  didn't  really  teach--he  just  did 
this  because  he  wanted  to  stir  me  up  and  get  me  started 
right  instead  of  doing  what  I  was  doing. 
GOODWIN:   Did  he  have  some  other  students? 
SHEETS:   No,  I'm  the  only  one  that  he  did  this  for.   We 
did  paint  together  later.   We  used  to  take  trips  with  his 
wife.   We'd  go  on  a  painting  trip  for  maybe  a  week  in  the 
mountains  or  sometimes  down  in  Laguna  Beach  and  [we'd] 
camp.   We  could  camp  in  the  sand  on  Laguna  Beach  and 
wouldn't  see  a  soul  for  a  week  in  those  days.   It  was 
just  like  a  deserted  island. 

Then  I  had  another  experience  a  little  bit  along  that 
line  before  I  went  to  art  school.   I  submitted  a  painting 
to  a  professional  show.   By  now,  by  this  time,  I  was,  I 
think,  seventeen,  and  I  had  been  accepted  in  several  shows, 
but  I  submitted  a  painting  to  the  old  Laguna  Beach  Art 


Association,  which  was  so  different  than  we  think  of  it 
today.   It  was  a  group  of  very,  very  good,  solid  painters — 
maybe  not  great,  but  remarkable  men--and  they  had  a  little 
art  gallery  down  there  that  was  run  as  a  very  professional 
place  to  show.   Each  year  they  had  an  annual  show,  where 
they  allowed  outside  people  to  submit.   So  I  sent  my  first 
painting  to  a  professional  show  there — I  think  I  was  six- 
teen or  seventeen — and  it  was  accepted.   And  again,  I  was 
standing  in  front  of  my  painting  when  the  show  was  opened. 
A  gentleman  walked  up  to  me,  and  he  looked  at  me,  and  he 
said,  "Are  you  Millard  Sheets?   Did  you  paint  that  picture?" 
I  said,  "Yes,  I  did."   "Well,"  he  said,  "I'm  Clarence 
Hinkle."   He  said,  "I  like  that  painting.   I  wish  you  could 
come  and  see  me."   It's  extraordinary:   he  said  almost  word 
for  word  what  Mr.  Modra  had  said.   "Would  you  come  down  to 
Laguna  once  a  month  and  let  me  look  at  your  work?"   For 
about  three  years,  I  went  down  at  least  once  a  month  and 
showed  him  my  paintings.   He  was  a  very  professional 
person — a  fine,  fine  painter  in  his  own  right — and  he 
opened  up  totally  new  worlds  of  feeling  in  painting.   He 
was  objective,  but  he  had  a  great  deal  more  sense  of  the 
importance  of  the  underlying  abstract  form  that  must  occur 
in  all  paintings  no  matter  whether  they're  representational 
or  not.   The  design  elements  certainly  were  very  important. 
He  was  marvelous  with  me  on  color.   But  as  I  look  back, 
it's  the  reason,  I  think,  that  all  my  life  I  have  spent 


so  much  time  with  young  people  who  occasionally  come  to 
me  for  advice  (or  who  I  see  need  advice) :   because  I  can 
never  repay  what  those  things  meant  to  me  and  at  the  right 
time  in  my  life.   It  was  a  period  that  was  all  exciting. 
There  was  nothing  about  it  that  in  any  way  formed  any 
question  in  my  mind  about  what  I  wanted  to  do.   These 
experiences,  one  on  top  of  another,  opened  the  door  for 
the  inevitable  thing.   So,  naturally,  when  I  graduated 
from  high  school  .... 

GOODWIN:   Just  a  moment.   Did  you  have  art  instruction 
in  high  school? 

SHEETS:   Yes,  I  had  art  instruction,  and  the  woman  in 
charge  of  the  art  department  [Ida  Webster]  unfortunately 
had  been  a  Latin  teacher.   When  Latin  was  dropped  in  the 
curriculum,  she  was  made  head  of  the  art  department.   She 
was  a  very  loving  person.   She  did  not  pretend  to  know  all 
about  art,  but  she  did  have  a  real  sense  of  responsibility, 
and  she  was  very  much  interested  in  what  I  was  doing,  the 
fact  that  I  was  seeing  people  like  Hinkle  and  Modra  earlier, 
and  by  this  time  others.   She  worked  it  out  because  I  did 
have,  fortunately,  fairly  good  grades  in  high  school,  and 
I  was  given  my  afternoons  free  my  senior  year  to  go  out 
painting.   She  was  the  one  that  fought  for  that,  which 
I've  always  thought  was  another  great  step  in  my  life. 
GOODWIN:   Did  anybody  else  have  that  privilege? 
SHEETS:   No.   I  had  enough  credits  because  I  started 


school  in  mid semester .   In  those  days  in  California,  you 
started  in  the  middle  of  the  year  because  of  your  birth- 
day.  No,  I  skipped  a  half  a  grade — that's  right — way 
back  in  the  third  grade  or  something  like  that,  and  it 
put  me  on  an  odd  semester.   So  by  the  time  I  got  to  my 
senior  year,  I  didn't  need  all  my  credits.   As  a  rule 
they  made  you  stay  in  the  study  hall,  but  she  and  the 
principal,  who  was  another  great  friend  of  mine,  decided 
that  I  could  do  more  good  for  myself  if  I  went  painting, 
which  I  did  every  afternoon. 

GOODWIN:   Did  you  enjoy  regular  academic  subjects? 
SHEETS:   Some  of  them  very  much.   I  enjoyed  math,  and  I 
enjoyed  English.   I  enjoyed  certain  sciences  very  much. 
I  had  a  terrible  time  with  languages  and  particularly 
Latin.   In  fact,  my  Latin  teacher  told  me  in  the  year  I 
repeated  my  second  year  of  Latin,  she  said,  "If  you  will 
promise  that  you  will  never  say  that  you  studied  with  me, 
I'll  pass  you."   Normally  I  had  very  good  grades,  but  I 
was  never  much  in  Latin.   But  I  loved  the  others.   I 
loved  chemistry,  and  I  loved  all  the  other  courses  very 

GOODWIN:   So  you  graduated  from  Pomona  High  School  in  .  .  . 
SHEETS:   ...  in  1925.   I  loved  working  in  the  shops.   I 
did  always  work  with  metal  and  wood  and  that  kind  of  thing, 
from  the  time  I  was  small.   I  think  just  part  of  being  an 
artist,  you  have  to  work  with  your  hands  and  every  material 


I  was  very  lucky,  again,  having  shop  teachers  that  were 
superior  people,  who  made  a  great  game  out  of  really 
learning  and  learning  well.   I  used  to  work  on  a  steel 
lathe  a  tremendous  amount,  because  I  was  fascinated  with 
the  things  you  could  do,  as  well  as  in  wood.   I  had  a 
very  good,  I  think,  general  background--not  in  the  cultural 
sense,  but  in  the  discipline  sense.   In  those  days  they 
taught  you  some  disciplines  and  they  made  you  learn,  but 
they  made  it  enjoyable  to  learn.   Of  course,  the  schools 
were  so  much  less  stirred  up  than  they  are  today,  and 
there  weren't  too  many  things  that  confused  us.   I  think 
it's  so  different.   I  think  so  often  of  the  students  today, 
with  the  problems  they  face,  relative  to  the  ones  that  we 
faced,  because  the  town  was  small,  and  everyone  knew  every- 
one, and  we  had  so  much  to  do  with  sports  and  Boy  Scouts. 
GOODWIN:   Was  yours  a  religious  family? 

SHEETS:   I  would  not  say  they  were  really  religious.   They 
certainly  were  not  irreligious.   They  were  not  in  any  sense 
irreligious.   I  went  to  the  Christian  church  because  it  was 
the  nearest  church  to  where  we  lived.   That's  where  I  joined 
the  Boy  Scout  troop.   I  loved  that  church  and  all  the 
experiences,  the  evening  young  people's  meetings,  because 
we  were  such  a  completely  coagulated  group,  and  it  was 
very  different  than  today.   Boy  Scouts  meant  a  lot  to  me, 
and  I  did  get  a  tremendous  amount  out  of  the  YMCA  when 
they  built  it.   Within  about  three  years,  I  taught  swimming 


to  the  little  ones  joining,  the  ten-year-olds.   I  think 
I  used  to  teach  about  300  kids  a  summer  to  swim.   I  played 
in  all  the  tennis  tournaments  and  then  the  squash  tourna- 
ments in  Southern  California.   In  fact,  I  won  several  of 
them,  which  was  a  great  balance  for  some  of  the  other 
things  I  was  doing.   So  I  never  felt  any  difference  between 
being  a  painter  or  being  a  baseball  player,  really.   It's 
a  very  natural  sort  of  a  way  to  grow  up. 
GOODWIN:   You  had  a  very  wholesome  upbringing. 
SHEETS:   Pretty  lucky,  really,  in  every  sense:   the  mar- 
velous relationship  with  my  whole  family,  my  aunts,  and 
their  children;  the  great  friends  that  we  all  had.   It 
was  a  very  natural  thing  and  not  at  all  strange  to  them 
that  I  wanted  to  be  a  painter,  and  yet  it  wasn't  because 
I  was  creeping  off  into  a  hole  somewhere.   We  participated 
in  everything.   It  was  a  great  experience. 
GOODWIN:   So  before  your  graduation  from  high  school,  you 
had  to  decide  where  you  were  going  to  go  to  art  school? 
SHEETS:   Well,  it  was  worse  than  that.   I  really  had  never 
thought  about  going  anywhere  except  to  Pomona  College.   I 
had  been  going  to  the  football  games  and  the  baseball  games 
at  Pomona  College,  which  was  only  four  miles  from  Pomona, 
since  I  was  a  little  boy.   I  had  such  a  feeling  of  wanting 
to  go  to  Pomona  College  that  it  never  occurred  to  me  to  go 
anywhere  else.   I  actually  was  accepted  at  Pomona  College 
to  go  in  as  a  freshman  in  the  fall  of  1925.   During  that 


summer,  people  like  Hinkle  and  Modra  and  others,  who  were 
quite  interested  in  me  as  a  possible  artist,  finally  per- 
suaded me  and  my  grandfather  and  grandmother  that  I 
shouldn't  go  to  Pomona  College.   They  felt  that  the  college 
would  be  a  great  experience,  but  there  wasn't  really  even 
the  beginning  of  a  professional  art  department  there. 
They  encouraged  me  to  go  directly  to  art  school,  though 
they  did  not  discount  for  one  moment  the  importance  of  a 
general  education.   If  Pomona  College  had  been  in  those 
days  like  most  colleges  are  today,  where  they  have  at 
least  a  reasonably  professional  art  school,  I'm  sure  I 
would  have  gone.   It  was  really  in  the  last  week  before 
school  opened  that  I  finally  decided  to  go  to  an  art 
school . 

GOODWIN:   What  were  your  choices  at  that  time?   What 
was  available? 

SHEETS:   Well,  it  was  very  interesting.  'There  were  three 
schools.   There  was  the  Los  Angeles  Art  Academy,  on 
Alvarado  Street,  which  several  people  recommended  highly. 
The  Otis  Art  Institute  was  where  it  is  now  located,  but 
it  was  quite  a  different  school  in  those  days.   Then 
there  was  a  brand-new  school  called  Chouinard  that  Mrs. 
[Nelbert]  Chouinard,  who  had  taught  at  Otis,  and  Mr. 
[F.  Tolles]  Chamberlain,  who  had  taught  at  Otis,  had 
decided  to  open  because  they  felt  that  more  should  be 
done  in  basic  training  than  any  school  was  doing.   I 


went  in  to  see  the  three  schools  with  a  friend  of  mine. 
We  rode  the  Red  Car  in  from  Pomona  to  Los  Angeles.   We 
walked  from  one  school  to  another — they  weren't  that  far 
apart.   When  we  walked  into  Chouinard,  even  though  we 
were  impressed  to  a  degree  by  both  of  the  other  schools, 
there  was  no  question  in  either  of  our  minds.   We  met 
another  wonderful  person,  a  Miss  [Patty]  Patterson,  who 
took  us  around  the  school.   She  taught  design,  but  she 
had  an  immediate  impact  upon  both  of  us.   She  was  so 
completely  knowledgeable  and  made  us  just  feel  at  home. 
As  a  matter  of  fact,  I  think  we  were  there  on  Thursday, 
and  we  started  at  school  on  Monday — which  was  a  lucky 
choice  in  every  way,  because  through  Chouinard  I  met 
teachers  that  were  just  tops  at  that  time,  just  tops. 
GOODWIN:   Can  you  give  me  a  little  more  background  about 
Mrs.  Chouinard? 

SHEETS:   Well,  Mrs.  Chouinard  was  a  magnificent  character. 
She  was  very  Irish.   Her  name  was  Murphy  before  she  married 
a  Frenchman  whose  name  was  Chouinard.   Unfortunately,  quite 
tragically,  he  died  not  too  long  after  they  were  married. 
So  she  had  gone  on  her  own  way.   She  had  taught  design, 
and  she  had  been  a  painter.   She  was  a  very  remarkable 
woman.   She  had  great  enthusiasm,  but  she  had  the  fire, 
the  guts,  to  carry  out  her  enthusiasm.   She  really  did 
stick  her  neck  out  a  mile  and  a  half  when  she  opened  the 
Chouinard  school  in  an  old,  old  building  down  on  Eighth 


street,  a  wooden  building,  an  old  house,  with  a  ramshackle 
old  barn  at  the  back  and  a  fig  tree  in  the  middle  of  the 
backyard.   I  am  fairly  sure  that  I  went  there  at  the 
beginning  of  the  third  year.   I  think  Chouinard  had  been 
opened  for  just  two  years,  perhaps  a  year,  but  I  think 
this  was  the  beginning  of  the  third  year.   We  were  so 
lucky.   We  had  F.  Tolles  Chamberlain,  who  taught  drawing, 
and  Francis  Murphy,  and  a  group  of  teachers  that  were 
very  well  educated.   I  think  here,  again,  you  meet  the 
right  person  at  the  right  moment.   We  met  Tolles 
Chamberlain,  who  had  been  a  Prix  de  Rome  scholar — I 
don't  know  how  long  before  this,  probably  fifteen  or 
eighteen  years  before  he  became  my  teacher.   He  used  to 
talk  about  the  great  murals  of  Europe  and  Egypt  and  Greece. 
Having  been  raised  in  Pomona,  I  didn't  know  there  was  any- 
thing east  or  west  of  Los  Angeles  County.   It  was  such  a 
fantastic  introduction  to  meet  a  man  who  was  just  lost  in 
reverie  in  his  excitement  about  these  things;  and  he  was 
living  it  as  clearly  in  those  days,  fifteen  or  twenty 
years  later,  as  he  must  have  when  he  was  in  Egypt  and 
Rome  and  all  over  Europe.   Of  course,  names  like 
Michelangelo  and  Botticelli — these  were  absolutely  new. 
There  weren't  books  in  those  days.   Oh,  you  had  Gardner's 
[Art  through  the  Ages,  by  Helen  Gardner] ,  I  guess,  and  a 
few  other  little  books  on  history  of  art,  but  it  was  a 
completely  new  introduction  to  the  world  of  art.   They 


made  everything  so  exciting,  we  didn't  know  what  time 


In  fact,  the  first  two  years  that  I  went  to  Chouinard, 
I  rode  the  Red  Car  from  Pomona.   I  caught  the  six  o'clock 
Red  Car  in  the  morning,  after  having  fed  about  250  rabbits 
that  my  cousin  and  I  raised.   We  put  ourselves  through 
school  by  raising  rabbits,  which  we  dressed  every  Saturday. 
I  would  get  into  Los  Angeles  about  a  quarter  to  eight,  take 
an  S  car  clear  out  to  Westlake  Park— in  those  days,  now 
MacArthur  Park—and  then  we'd  walk  a  few  blocks  down  to 
the  school.   Then  I'd  catch  the  4:45  home,  and  get  home 
about  six-fifteen,  and  feed  the  rabbits,  and  go  to  bed. 
That  went  on  for  about  two  years.   Then,  of  course,  I 
moved  into  Los  Angeles.   In  fact,  I  started  teaching  my 

third  year  at  Chouinard.   I  started  teaching  a  watercolor 

class  at  Chouinard  to  most  of  the  students  I'd  gone  to 

school  with. 

GOODWIN:   For  pay? 

SHEETS:   Yes,  for  pay.   I  was  able  to  live  in  Los  Angeles 

in  a  very  mediocre  apartment,  but  it  was  a  great  change 

from  going  back  and  forth. 

GOODWIN:   What  was  the  curriculum  while  you  were  a 


SHEETS:  They  required  five  days  a  week  drawing  from  the 
figure  every  morning,  all  morning.  I  had  painting  every 
afternoon  and  a  design  class  on  Saturday  morning.   Mr. 


Chamberlain,  because  they  felt  they  couldn't  make  it  a 
class,  let  those  of  us  who  were  interested — and  it  turned 
out  to  be  about  eight  (Phil  Dike,  Don  Graham,  Phil  Paradise 
and  the  whole  group)  ~we  stayed  after  school  one  night  a 
week  for  a  mural  painting  class  where  he  showed  us  the 
most  incredible  reproductions  of  some  of  the  great  things 
of  Europe  and  the  world.   He  then  gave  us  problems,  which 
we  worked  on  outside  of  school.   That  was  my  first  intro- 
duction both  to  architecture  and  to  mural  painting.   I've 
always  been  so  grateful  for  the  spirit,  again,  in  which  he 
did  it.   It  was  not  just  a  pedantic  course.   He  gave  his 
time  quite  apart  from  school.   I'm  sure  he  wasn't  paid  for 
it,  and  we  were  so  happy  to  spend  our  time.   The  only  thing 
we  ran  out  of  was  time.   We  were  always  so  very,  very 
busy.   We  kept  paintings  going  in  the  back  barn  and  out 
in  the  back  court.   In  addition  to  these  things,  we  were 
painting  the  figure  and  everything  on  the  inside.   It  was 
a  marvelous  bunch  of  years,  where  so  many  of  the  people 
who  have  gone  all  over  the  world  today  came  from  in  that 
very  short  period  of  about  four  or  five  years. 
GOODWIN:   How  many  students  were  there? 
SHEETS:   There  were  some  other  classes.   They  had  the 
beginning  of  some  great  classes  in  costume  design  and 
fashion  design  and  fabrics.   They  had  a  very  strong 
emphasis  on  design.   I  think  there  was  one  class  in  the 
early  days — I  guess  it  was  called  Commercial  Art.   But 


I  think  there  were  around  ninety  students,  if  I  remember. 
GOODWIN:   There  were  women,  also? 

SHEETS:   Oh,  yes.   I  think  there  were  more  boys  than  girls, 
but  it  was  fairly  balanced.   No  one  in  the  school  was 
allowed  to  go  to  school  unless  they  had  a  certain  amount 
of  proven  ability.   Not  necessarily  what  you  and  I  might 
call  talent,  because  no  one  knew  enough  about  who  they 
were  yet,  but  they  had  to  have  a  reasonable  amount  of 
skill  to  get  in.   Again,  it  was  a  great  thing.   I  don't 
think  we  felt  competitive  in  those  days.   I  think  our 
teachers  had  a  lot  to  do  with  the  fact  that  we  were  so 
thrilled  when  someone  did  something  exciting.   We'd  wish 
we  could  say  that  we'd  done  it,  you  know.   I  think  it  was 
just  sort  of  built-in  in  those  days.   I  think  maybe  there 
hasn't  been  quite  that  spirit  since. 

GOODWIN:   What  led  the  teachers  at  a  school  like  Chouinard 
to  Los  Angeles? 

SHEETS:   Well,  Los  Angeles  had  a  lot  of  advantages.   A 
man  like  Clarence  Hinkle  always  had  an  income,  and  he 
lived  in  Laguna.   He  loved  the  sea,  and  he  painted  it. 
It  was  as  natural  for  him  to  be  there  as  anywhere  else; 
and  I  think  at  his  age— because  he  was  probably  in  his 
late  fifties  when  he  came  here~I  think  he  loved  the  ease 
of  the  climate,  relatively  speaking.   Of  course,  Laguna 
was  a  wild  place  then.   It  wasn't  all  covered  up  with 


houses.   It  had  beautiful  hills,  marvelous  canyons,  wonder- 
ful surf,  great  rocks,  everything.   People  like  Tolles 
Chamberlain  came  here,  I  think,  for  his  wife's  health.   In 
fact,  I'm  sure.   They  lived  in  New  England,  and  I  believe 
she  developed  TB.   They  lived  sort  of  toward  Azusa  for  a 
while,  which  was  real  desert  in  those  days.   You  might  as 
well  have  been  in  Palm  Springs.   It  was  dry  and  very,  very 
good  for  that  sort  of  thing.   Then  later,  of  course,  they 
moved  in  to  Pasadena.   But  I  think  every  one  of  the  teachers 
had  a  good  reason  to  be  here,  and  it  was  beginning  to  grow. 
There  was  a  lot  being  developed  in  the  way  of  real  new 
interest  in  art  among  many  collectors  in  Los  Angeles, 
young  people. 

GOODWIN:   Do  you  think  in  retrospect  it  was  a  provincial 

SHEETS:   Relatively  speaking,  very  provincial,  yes.   The 
[Los  Angeles  County]  Museum  had  a  few  good  pieces  in  it. 
I  don't  know  how  many  people  know  what  a  fine  collection 
Preston  Harrison  had  brought  together  of  contemporary 
American  painting.   That  was  a  big  excitement  to  all  of 
us.   We  used  to  go  down  to  the  museum  at  least  once  a 
week  and  look  at  these  paintings.   They  were  the  only 
paintings  we'd  ever  seen.   It  was  a  very  exciting  thing. 
But  relatively  speaking,  it  was  quite  provincial.   There 
were  no  great  big  collections,  except  maybe  the  Preston 
Harrison  collection.   Very  few  old  masters.   They  started 


watercolor  shows  about  that  time,  for  the  first  time,  at 
the  L.A.  museum.   Very  few  people  were  painting  water- 
colors.   There  weren't  over  a  dozen  in  the  whole  water- 
color  society.   I  got  in  the  first  time  I  exhibited 
because  they  needed  members,  I  guess. 
GOODWIN:   When  was  the  first  time  you  exhibited? 
SHEETS:   I  think  it  must  have  been  about  1926.   I'd  been 
painting  in  oil  so  long,  and  when  Mr.  Chamberlain  encouraged 
me  to  paint  in  watercolor,  it  didn't  take  too  long  to  make 
the  change  from  one  medium  to  another.   But  it  was  a  very 
marvelous  period  for  people  working  together. 

Then  they  started  to  bring  good  exhibits.   The  Dalzell 
Hatfield  Gallery  opened  up  on  Seventh  Street  only  a  block 
away,  at  that  time,  from  the  school  on  Eighth  Street.   Every 
noon  we  used  to  go  up  to  the  gallery  and  see  what  they  had, 
and  I  saw  my  first  van  Gogh,  my  first  Matisse,  my  first 
introduction  to  the  postimpressionists  came  from  the 
Hatfield  Gallery.   I  never  had  seen — hadn't  even  read 
about  or  heard  about — these  people,  and  it  was  pretty 
shocking  to  us  in  those  days  as  kids  growing  up  in  the 
California  eucalyptus  school. 
GOODWIN:   Right. 

SHEETS:   But  it  was  marvelous  to  have  that  gallery.   Then 
the  Stendahl  Gallery  at  that  time  was  in  the  Ambassador 
Hotel.   He  brought  some  of  the  top  Americans  out.   That 
was  a  very  successful  gallery  until  the  stock  crash  in 


■29.   Then  both  galleries  closed  for  a  while. 
GOODWIN:   Can  you  characterize  Earl  Stendahl? 
SHEETS:   Earl  Stendahl  is  one  of  the  most  interesting  and 
in  many  ways  exciting  men  I've  ever  known.   Though  I  never 
had  any  dealings  really  with  him  unitl,  oh,  the  last  twenty 
years,  when  I  bought  occasional  works  of  art  from  him,  I 
used  to  go  into  his  gallery  constantly.   He  had  American 
paintings,  like  Childe  Hassam  and  a  whole  group  of  the 
New  England  painters,  some  of  the  painters  from  Pennsylvania, 
the  sort  of  semi-impressionist.   Then  he  had  other  painters 
like  [William]  Waugh  and  those  people.   I  realize  they 
sound  somewhat  old  hat  today,  but  they  were  not  old  hat 
to  us  in  1925  and  '26.   I  used  to  go  out  there  so  con- 
stantly that  he  finally  asked  me  who  I  was,  and  we  became 
friends,  very  close  friends.   I  traveled  with  him  in 
Europe.   I  have  known  his  family,  his  children  since  they 
were  babies.   I've  known  his  wife,  and  then  later,  when  I 
was  married,  we  became  very,  very  close  friends.   I've 
seen  so  much  of  them  all  of  our  lives.   But  I'd  have  to 
say  that  Earl  Stendahl  had  the  great  excitement  about  art 
that  so  few  dealers  possess  to  the  same  degree.   Some 
people  used  to  occasionally  refer  to  him  as  the  poor 
man's  Duveen.   [laughter]   I  thought  of  Earl  as  being 
much  more  than  that.   When  he  started  bringing  pre- 
Columbian  art  into  California,  it  was  a  shocker  because 
nobody  had  ever  heard  of  pre-Columbian  art.   His  excitement 


and  enthusiasm  for  it,  which  developed  then  into  art  of 
the  world,  became  much  more  than  just  pre-Columbian.   It 
was  because  he  had  this  desire  to  learn,  and  of  course 
he  traveled  the  world  more  thoroughly  than  most  people 
and  really  saw  more  and  cared  more.   A  great  man.   I 
really  loved  him. 

GOODWIN:  It  seems  so  remarkable  to  me  that  he  was  as 
instrumental  as  he  was  in  promoting  pre-Columbian  and 
ethnic  art  nationally  without  having  any  formal  back- 
ground to  do  that. 

SHEETS:   No  formal  background  at  all.   If  you  compared  it 
to  selling  the  typical  California  art  of  that  time — Edgar 
Payne,  [Hanson]  Puthoff ,  painters  who  painted  very  nice, 
simple  atmospheric  California  hillsides — it's  a  big  jump. 
And  he  made  it,  and  I  don't  know  how  he  happened  to  make 
it.   On  the  other  hand,  he  used  to  be  interested  when 
artists  from  Mexico  came  here.   He  used  to  be  interested 
when  artists  from  Europe  came  here.   Long  before  most  of 
these  people  were  involved,  he  knew  the  artists,  the  top 
artists  of  Europe  and  of  Mexico.   I  presume  it  might  have 
been  either  Diego  Rivera  or  [Miguel]  Covarrubias,  but  I 
think  one  or  the  other,  I'm  pretty  sure,  because  he  knew 
them  both  so  well.   I  think  one  or  the  other  was  the  one 
that  perhaps  started  his  interest  in  pre-Columbian  art. 


NOVEMBER  17,  1976 

GOODWIN:   How  did  the  Cowie  Galleries  compare  to  the 
Stendahl  Gallery  in  those  early  days? 

SHEETS:   Cowie  was  similar  in  a  way.   I  think,  really,  he 
just  sort  of  filled  in  after  Stendahl  left  that  area  of 
art.   He  was  much  later  than  Stendahl — I  don't  know  how 
much  later,  but  I  would  say  perhaps  ten  years  from  the 
time  Mr.  Stendahl  had  his  early  gallery  in  the  Ambassador 
Hotel  until  he  opened  the  one  on  Wilshire  Boulevard.   I 
think  Cowie  opened  his  gallery  about  the  time  that  Earl 
moved  to  Wilshire  Boulevard.   Many  of  the  artists  that 
Earl  Stendahl  had  handled  originally  went  over  to  the — 
well,  I  remember  now;  I  can  tell  you  what  really  happened. 
A  group  of  artists,  when  the  Depression  came,  decided  to 
rent  the  Biltmore  Gallery.   They  formed  an  association  of 
artists.   They  rented  it,  and  they  hired  someone  to  run 
it,  but  it  was  more  like  a  cooperative.   They  struggled 
along  with  it  for,  I  think,  two  or  three  years,  and  then 
Mr.  Cowie  came  from,  I  believe,  the  East.   Whether  he 
simply  bought  into  it  or  they  hired  him,  I  don't  know, 
but  I  know  that  there  was  some  kind  of  business  relation- 
ship between  the  original  group  and  Mr.  Cowie.   Then  later 
he  bought  them  out  and  ran  the  Biltmore  Gallery  for,  oh, 
goodness,  twenty-five  years  before  he  moved  out  into  the 


Wilshire  district.   He  remained  almost  entirely  on  the 
western  art  side — not  meaning  the  cowboy  side,  but  the 
artists  who  lived  out  here.   People  like  Emil  Kosa  and 
a  whole  group  of  others  were  with  Cowie  for  most  of  their 
lives.   He  served  a  very  important  part  in  not  only  pre- 
senting them  well  but  giving  them  a  first-rate  outlet. 
He  had  a  very  fine  clientele,  and  he  was  a  very  important 
man  in  this  area  from  the  period  of  the  middle  thirties 
on  through  until  his  death.   Then  unfortunately  his 
gallery  was  closed,  whereas  Earl  had  made  the  shift  over 
into  the  ethnic  arts.   I  had  an  exhibition,  I  think,  too, 
on  Wilshire  Boulevard  in  the  Stendahl  Gallery.   They  were 
arranged  by  my  dealer,  Mr.  Hatfield,  in  collaboration  with 
Mr.  Stendahl.   Those  were  the  only  experiences  I  had, 
really,  in  business  as  far  as  Stendahl  was  concerned, 
but  Cowie  was  very  important. 

GOODWIN:   We're  going  to  talk  about  Hatfield  in  a  moment, 
but  do  you  remember  some  of  the  other  Los  Angeles  dealers 
at  this  time?   [pause]   They  must  be  pretty  obscure. 
SHEETS:   There  were  practically  no  dealers  except  Stendahl 
and  Cowie  and  Hatfield  in  those  early  days.   There  were 
dealers  who  came  from  New  York  and  who  did  show  in  hotel 
rooms,  apartments  they  would  lease  for  a  time;  but  the 
whole  scene  of  Beverly  Hills  and  the  galleries  that 
developed  there,  that  didn't  start  until  really  after 
the  war.   There  were  a  few  dealers  that  came,  and  then 


they  would  leave.   But  the  ones  that  hung  on  were  those 
three,  basically. 

GOODWIN:   How  did  you  become  commercially  involved  with 

SHEETS:   Well,  that  was  a  great  excitement  in  my  life. 
I  was  in  my  third  year  at  Chouinard,  or  really  the  end 
of  my  second  year  at  Chouinard,  and  I  received  a  telephone 
call  at  the  school  from  Mr.  Hatfield.   Though  I  had  been 
in  the  Hatfield  Gallery  countless  times  looking  at  these 
things  that  really  shook  me  up — like  van  Goghs,  and  I 
remember  particularly  a  Matisse  show--I  had  never  spoken 
to  Mr.  Hatfield.   He  had  always  been  very  nice  when  we 
students  went  over  there.   In  fact,  I  had  my  noon  hour 
there  pretty  often,  because  I  very  often  went  without 
lunch  to  buy  paint,  and  I  spent  the  noon  hour  in  the 
Hatfield  Gallery.   It  was  just  marvelous  the  way  he 
treated  us,  but  I  never  had  actually  met  him.   I  don't 
know  that  he  knew  who  I  was  out  of  all  the  kids  that 
came  in  there,  but  he  called  the  school  one  day  and 
asked  me  to  call  him.   I  telephoned  him,  and  he  said, 
"I  would  very  much  like  to  talk  to  you,  if  you  could 
come  over  some  time."   So  I  couldn't  wait.   I  went  over. 
I  didn't  know  what  he  wanted  to  talk  to  me  about.   He  sat 
me  down,  and  he  said,  "Now,  I  have  seen  some  of  your 
things  in  exhibitions  at  the  museum  and  two  or  three 
places.   I  realize  you're  just  getting  started,  but  so 
am  I." 


See,  I  don't  know  that  you  know  this,  but  the  Newhouse 
Gallery,  Bert  Newhouse  in  New  York,  opened  the  gallery  on 
Seventh  Street,  and  it  was  called  the  Newhouse  Gallery.   I 
think  they  opened  in  1926,  and  Mr.  Hatfield  worked  for  Mr. 
Newhouse.   You  know  the  Newhouse  Gallery  in  New  York? 
GOODWIN:   Right. 

SHEETS:   Bert  Newhouse  started  the  gallery.   When  the 
crash  came,  they  closed  the  gallery  because  there  just 
wasn't  any  business,  and  Mr.  Hatfield  opened  a  business 
really  in  an  apartment  house  on  Wilshire  Boulevard,  where 
he  lived  for  some  time.   It  wasn't  until  the  early  thirties, 
like  '33  or  -4,  that  he  opened  the  gallery  at  the  Ambassador 
Hotel.   I'm  getting  ahead  of  the  story. 

He  explained  to  me  that  the  gallery  was  just  getting 
started  in  Los  Angeles,  and  he  said,  "I'm  very  much 
interested,  and  Mr.  Newhouse  is,  in  your  painting.   We've 
seen  it,  and  we  think  that  maybe  you  have  a  potential.   We 
don't  know.   We  don't  know  whether  it's  going  to  be  prac- 
tical to  handle  it,  but  if  you  would  put  everything  that 
you've  got  into  it  for  five  years,  we'll  do  the  same. 
But  don't  count  on  anything  for  five  years  because  it's 
going  to  take  a  while  to  build  up  a  following."   I  was 
terribly  excited,  needless  to  say.   I  was  just  thrilled 
to  death,  and  I  started  to  work  toward  a  show.   I  had  my 
first  exhibition  in  1929,  which  was  about  a  year  and  a 
half  later.   Well,  it  was  just  the  greatest  thing  that 


could  ever  happen  to  a  young  person,  being  still  in  art 
school  being  asked  to  do  this.   I  worked  very  hard.   I 
painted  oils,  watercolors,  drawings,  and  etchings — 

As  I  think  you  know,  two  weeks  before  the  show  opened, 
I  won  a  prize  in  Texas,  which  was  a  fantastic  windfall  for 
a  guy  that  had  been  going  without  lunch  to  buy  paint.   I 
won  the  $1,750  ptize  in  the  Davis  [Edgar  B.  Davis  Prize] 
competition  in  San  Antonio  [Witte  Memorial  Museum] --which, 
by  the  way,  not  only  let  me  go  to  Europe  for  the  better 
part  of  a  year,  but  a  young  architect  that  I  knew  [Bill 
Veale] ,  a  very  close  friend  of  mine  who  had  been  loaning 
me  his  car  for  a  couple  of  years  to  go  painting  with  (be- 
cause I  didn't  have  a  car)  and  who  had  always  wanted  to 
go  to  Germany  to  study  modern  architecture  at  the  Bauhaus, 
we  had  enough  money  so  that  he  could  go  to  the  Bauhaus  and 
I  could  travel  all  over  Europe.   We  went,  by  the  way,  to 
Central  and  South  America  for  thirty-one  days  on  a  trip 
before  we  even  left  New  York  to  go  to  Europe,  all  with 
that  $1,7  50,  which  is  hard  to  conceive  of  today,  when 
you  know  what  travel  costs. 

GOODWIN:   I  want  to  talk  in  some  detail  about  that  trip, 
but  let's  talk  about  the  show. 

SHEETS:   Right.   Well,  anyway,  we  opened  the  show,  and 
I've  always  been  very  touched  by  the  fact  that  Bert 
Newhouse  bought  the  first  watercolor  out  of  my  show. 


And  he  still  has  it  hanging  in  his  apartment  in  New  York, 
which  pleases  me  very  much.   I  think  he's  more  sentimental 
than  I  am  or  he'd  have  gotten  rid  of  it  a  long  time  ago. 
But  it  was  a  great  success  actually.   We  hadn't  planned 
on  it  being,  but  they  sold  the  major  part  of  the  exhibition 
out.   Of  course,  that  just  made  it  easier  for  the  trip  and 
everything  else.   It  was  just  a  matter  of  timing.   Of 
course,  in  1929  there  was  a  great  deal  of  money;  and  it 
was  in  the  spring,  and  the  crash  came  in  the  fall.   I  was 
in  Europe  when  the  crash  came,  and  I  didn't  even  know  what 
they  meant.   But  then  I  did  win  a  whole  series  of  prizes 
that  year. 

GOODWIN:   What  were  some  of  the  others? 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  won  the  major  prize  at  the  Los  Angeles 
County  Fair,  and  I  won  a  prize  at  Laguna  Beach,  and  I  won 
one  in  San  Francisco.   I  don't  remember  all.   I  could  give 
these  more  accurately  if  I  looked  them  up.   But  it  just 
seemed  like  a  moment  when  prizes  came  easily.   I  didn't 
need  a  hell  of  a  lot  of  stimulation,  but  the  exhibition 
really  meant  a  great  deal  to  me.   Well,  you  don't  want 
to  talk  about  Europe  yet. 

GOODWIN:   Had  you  finished  school  by  this  time? 
SHEETS:   Yes,  I  suppose  you  never  finish  school,  but  I 
was  not  taking  regular  classes.   I  was  teaching,  I  think 
two  or  three  sessions  a  week,  and  just  painting  like  mad. 
I  was  still  seeing  people  like  Clarence  Hinkle  and  Tolles 


Chamberlain  in  particular.   They  always  wanted  to  see  what 
I  was  doing,  and  they  were  so  wonderful  as  really  stimu- 
lating teachers,  and  I  went  on  with  them  literally  for 
years.   It  wasn't  a  matter  of  taking  classes,  but  because 
we  were  friends. 

GOODWIN:   Did  Chouinard  actually  grant  a  degree? 
SHEETS:   No,  in  those  days  it  did  not.   Of  course  it 
doesn't  exist  now,  but  it  did  in  the  last  few  years  of 
its  life,  before  it  was  merged  into  Cal  Arts.   It  gave 
a  degree.   It  was  a  professional  degree,  strictly.   It 
did  not  comply  with  a  lot  of  the  regimented  degrees  of 
general  cultural  background.   But  they  did  have  some 
history;  they  did  have  certain  things.   When  Walt  Disney 
was  supporting  the  school,  they  had  some  very  fine  courses 
that  were  required  in  addition  to  the  art  courses. 
GOODWIN:   So  in  1929  you  began  your  trip? 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  think  I  should  tell  you  one  thing  before 
1929.   Phil  Dike,  who  started  to  the  school  [Chouinard] 
the  same  day  I  did,  and  we're  very  close  friends— by  the 
time  we'd  finished  our  second  full  year  of  school,  we 
decided  we  should  have  a  studio.   We  should  not  just  take 
every  class  every  day;  we  should  start  to  become  painters. 
So  we  rented  a  funny  stable  up  on  North  Alvarado.   We 
worked  like  the  devil  for  a  month  getting  it  fixed  up, 
and  we  kind  of  halfway  divided  it.   This  wasn't  where  we 
would  sleep,  but  it  was  a  real  working  studio.   I  remember 


we  stretched  canvases  like  mad.   We  got  eight  or  ten 
canvases  ahead  for  each  of  us;  we  had  our  watercolor 
board  set  up;  we  had  everything.   The  first  day  we  said, 
"Now,  tomorrow,  we're  going  to  start  painting."   We  each 
started  painting,  but  couldn't  see  each  other  on  the 
opposite  sides  of  this  little  partition.   I  think  it  was 
about  ten  o'clock,  and  I  don't  know  whether  he  came  over 
to  my  side  or  I  went  over  to  his  side,  but  we  thought  it 
would  be  so  much  fun  to  go  down  to  the  coffee  break  to 
the  school.   The  idea  of  being  absolutely  alone  in  a 
studio  after  being  around  all  these  people  was  so  difficult, 
I  can't  even  begin  to  tell  you  what  a  blow  it  was  really  to 
be  confined  there  just  with  yourself  to  fight  these  things 
out.   We  managed  to  go  down  there  about  once  or  twice  a 
week  for  maybe  a  month  or  two  before  we  housebroke  our- 
selves, and  then  we  really  had  a  ball  working.   We  had 
an  exhibition  together. 

I  got  my  first  mural  job  in  a  big  club  down  toward 
Balboa.   I  asked  Phil  to  work  with  me  on  it,  which  he  did. 
We  were  just  beginning  to  really  get  into  things  with  a 
bang,  and  Phil  had  a  terrible  ruptured  appendix  and 
almost  died,  which  blew  up  our  studio  because  I  couldn't 
afford  to  do  it  alone.   Phil  was  sick  as  could  be  for  at 
least  seven  or  eight  months.   He  had  peritonitis — and 
you  know  that's  a  serious  matter--but  he  recovered, 


GOODWIN:   Herbert  Jepson  is  another  artist  who's  being 
studied  in  this  project,  and  I  read  some  of  the  tran- 
scripts of  his  interviews.   He  talks  a  little  about  you, 
and  he  says  you  used  to  cut  class  frequently.   [laughter] 
SHEETS:   Because  I  liked  to  paint.   [laughter] 
GOODWIN:   That's  right.   He  said  you'd  go  on  field  trips. 
SHEETS:   Yeah.   I  used  to  cut  life  drawing  once  in  a  while, 
and  Chamberlain  was  so  tough — he  used  to  give  me  hell  every 
time  I  came  back — so  I  gave  up  cutting  that.   But  I  did 
sometimes  not  appear  in  the  painting  classes.   I  went  out 
painting.   But  Jepson  was  one  of  the  same  group.   He 
started  the  same  day  I  did.   It  was  a  marvelous  group  of 
people.   We  had  one  of  the  most  talented  students  I  have 
ever  known  in  my  life,  a  fellow  by  the  name  of  Pat  O'Day, 
a  brilliant  young  painter.   I  don't  know  to  this  day  what- 
ever became  of  him.   He  went  to  work  for  a  decorator  after 
he  finished  school,  and  I  knew  that  he  worked  for  him  for 
three  or  four  years.   I  can't  believe  he's  alive,  because 
I  think  he  was  by  far  the  most  talented  of  all  of  us.   He 
had  tremendous  taste  and  feeling  in  everything  he  did. 
Chamberlain  just  nearly  swooned  every  time  he  saw  one  of 
his  paintings,  and  we  all  did. 
GOODWIN:   Did  you  get  grades  in  your  courses? 
SHEETS:   More  or  less  satisfactory,  unsatisfactory.   They 
didn't  really  give  numerical  grades  or  letter  grades,  but 
they  wouldn't  stand  for  any  fooling  around.   They  knew  I 


wasn't  fooling  around  when  I  cut  class.   I  did  cut  class 
a  lot. 

GOODWIN:   Were  you  specializing  in  mural  painting  or 
watercolor  painting  or  something  else? 

SHEETS:   Well,  mostly  oil  landscape.   I  was  painting  a 
great  deal  outdoors.   I'd  take  big  canvases,  40  x  50  can- 
vases, right  outdoors,  set  them  up.   Hinkle  particularly 
taught  me  ways  of  laying  in  a  canvas  so  that  you  could  do 
this.   It  isn't  practical  unless  you  are  willing  to  come 
to  grips  with  the  picture  immediately  and  get  the  whole 
thing  laid  in,  in  a  way.   I  enjoyed  the  way  he  taught  us 
to  cope  with  the  problem,  and  set  the  color  chord,  and  to 
set  the  value  range  and  the  pitch  of  the  painting  and  all 
that  kind  of  thing.   I  used  to  love  nothing  more  than  just 
to  go  right  out  and  do  one  in  the  morning  and  do  one  in 
the  afternoon,  and  I  used  to  paint  like  mad. 

One  reason  that  I  cut  a  lot  of  classes  was  that  they 
had  a  tremendous  session:   all  the  Gypsies  in  the  United 
States  came  down  to  the  Whittier  Narrows  to  elect  a  new 
queen.   The  queen  died — and  the  queen  is  much  more  impor- 
tant than  the  king,  I  guess,  in  the  Gypsy  world — but  there 
was  somewhere  between  twelve  to  fourteen  hundred  Gypsies 
with  every  kind  of  conveyance  in  the  world,  and  tents. 
It  was  a  fantastic  setup.   I  went  out  there  with  these 
big  canvases,  scared  to  death,  because  I  was  so  young  and 
some  of  these  people  looked  pretty  tough  to  me.   There 


were  lots  of  the  Middle  European-type  Gypsies.  At  first 
they  didn't  particularly  like  to  have  me  around,  but  they 
became  intrigued,  and  then  a  couple  of  the  men  would  hold 
off  anybody  that  bothered  me,  particularly  kids.  I  must 
have  painted  a  dozen  or  more,  fifteen  big  canvases  right 
in  the  middle  of  this  Gypsy  encampment.  They  were  there 
for  over  six  weeks. 

GOODWIN:   It  sounds  so  odd  for  Southern  California. 
SHEETS:   It  was  so  odd,  but  here  they  came  to  elect  a  new 
queen.   They  came  from  all  over  the  United  States.   It  was 
a  huge  encampment,  very,  very  exciting,  lots  of  color.   Of 
course,  they  wore  all  their  Gypsy  costumes.   The  tents  were 
decorated.   It  was  almost  like  going  back  to  the  days  of 
knighthood  with  all  the  tents  and  the  horses.   They  had 
lots  of  horses,  too,  as  well  as  wagons  and  old  cars  and 
everything  else.   It's  just  one  of  the  sad  things  that 
has  gone  out  of  our  life,  but  I  enjoyed  it  thoroughly. 
But  I  remember  I  did  get  quite  a  lot  of  hell  for  cutting 
almost  a  month.   But  it  was  worth  it,  and  they  felt  it 
was.   I  know  that  I  would  have  gained  probably  more  maybe 
if  I  had  stayed  in  some  ways,  but  it  was,  you  know,  part 

of  my  life. 

GOODWIN:   What's  happened  to,  say,  the  Gypsy  paintings? 
SHEETS:   Well,  I  think  Mrs.  Hatfield  has  several.   At  one 
time  Mr.  and  Mrs.  Hatfield  bought  something  like  twenty 
paintings.   I  was  getting  ready  to  build  a  house,  and  they 


bought  a  lot  of  the  early  paintings,  which  they've  never 
particularly  tried  to  sell.   I  don't  know  that  they've 
tried  to  sell  any  of  them.   I  think  they  own  several  of 
those  Gypsy  paintings.   I  know  that  at  least  one  or  two 
of  them  are  in  museums,  small  museums  that  bought  them 
early.   I  don't  have  any  of  them. 

GOODWIN:   Do  you  have  other  examples  of  your  student  work? 
SHEETS:   Oh,  yes,  I  have  a  few  things,  not  too  many.   Some 
of  my  relatives  have  some  of  the  early  things  that  I  know 
of.   A  couple  of  times  when  I've  had  a  retrospective  show, 
we've  been  able  to  dig  them  out.   We  had  a  couple  of  Gypsy 
paintings  from  Mrs.  Hatfield  in  this  last  retrospective 
show  I  had  at  Scripps.   But  most  of  those  early  ones  were 
sold  to  museums  all  over  the  central  part  of  the  United 
States.   I'm  not  ashamed  of  them.   I  wish  they  had  more 
recent  ones,  but  it  was  fun. 

I  had  a  traveling  show  that  Mr.  Hatfield  set  up  that 
went  to  something  like  thirty-four  museums  over  a  period 
of  three  years.   I  had  drawings,  etchings,  lots  of  water- 
colors,  and  oils.   They  went  all  through  the  middle  part 
of  the  United  States,  the  Southeast,  and  down  into  the 
South — New  Orleans  and  Texas  and  Oklahoma  and  all  of  those 
places.   It  just  kept  traveling.   Many  of  those  things 
were  sold  in  some  of  those  small  museiams.   Some  of  them 
were  bought  out  of  the  show  by  people  who  wanted  a  painting, 
GOODWIN:   Let's  talk  about  your  trip  now. 


SHEETS:   Well,  the  trip  was  a  great  trip.   As  I  said,  we 
left  here,  the  two  of  us.   This  man's  name  was  Bill  Veale. 
We  went  through  Central  and  South  America  and  Cuba  and  up 
to  New  York.   I  painted  all  the  way,  which  was  exciting. 
The  ship  was  a  regular  freighter  with  some  passengers.   We 
hit  seventeen  so-called  banana  ports.   As  a  rule,  we  might 
only  cruise  for  a  day  and  a  half  or  two  between  ports,  and 
then  we'd  be  in  port  maybe  two  and  a  half  or  three  days, 
loading  and  unloading.   Of  course,  I'd  just  go  ashore 
immediately  and  paint.   I  painted  mostly  watercolor.   I 
did  some  oils,  but  I  painted  almost  entirely  watercolors. 
Throught  the  Panama  and  then  to  Cartagena,  South  America, 
and  then  up  to  New  York . 

Here  again  were  these  things  that  make  real  interesting 
moments  in  your  life.   I  had  a  group  of  architects  that  had 
been  working  with  me.   I  had  been  studying  etching,  and  I 
was  teaching  them  etching  at  night  and  also  delineation — 
which  I  didn't  know  too  much  about,  but  I  drew  well  enough 
that  I  could  teach  these  people  how  to  make  delineations 
in  some  of  their  buildings,  and  I  used  to  do  a  lot  of 
delineations  for  some  of  these  architects.   One  of  the 
architects  in  that  group — this  was  before  I  went  to  Europe — 
insisted  that  when  I  went  to  New  York,  I  should  go  and  meet 
an  architect  that  he  had  worked  for,  for  many  years  in  New 
York.   I  didn't  know  how  famous  the  man  was.   It  was  Cass 
Gilbert,  who  designed  some  of  the  first  skyscrapers  in  New 


York.   So  when  I  arrived,  he  made  me  promise  that  I  would 
get  in  touch  with  him.   Well,  I  did.   In  the  meantime,  he 
had  written  to  Cass  Gilbert.   I  had  never  been  more 
beautifully  received  or  entertained  by  anyone.   This  man 
insisted  that  I  come  up  to  the  office  and  see  the  whole 
office  by  ten  o'clock  in  the  morning,  and  then  he  took  me 
to  a  very  fancy  club  for  lunch,  and  I  felt  like — you  know, 
it  was  just  a  great  experience. 

But  the  main  thing  was  that  he  sat  me  down  after  we 
got  back  from  lunch,  and  he  said,  "Now  you're  going  to  go 
to  Europe,  and  you're  going  to  see  a  lot  of  things.   I'm 
sure  you're  going  to  do  a  great  deal  of  drawing  over  there." 
(He  was  crazy  about  drawing.)   And  he  said,  "Have  you  done 
much  drawing  of  this  kind?   I  mean,  of  old  buildings?"   I 
said,  "No,  I've  never  done  any  of  it,  really."   Well,  he 
said,  "I  hope  that  you  will  seriously  get  into  it,  because," 
he  said,  "I  know  you  have  a  feeling  for  architecture."   And 
he  said,  "I  think  it  would  be  a  very  good  thing  for  you." 

Well,  I  was  so  bewildered  by  Europe  at  first  that  I 
didn't  even  feel  like  painting,  and  I  drew,  drew  every  day. 
I  made  some  of  the  most  meticulous  pencil  drawings  I've 
ever  made  in  my  life. 
GOODWIN:   Where  did  you  start? 

SHEETS:   I  started  in  Germany.   We  went  to  Germany  to  get 
this  friend  of  mine  going  in  school.   [phone  rings;  tape 
recorder  turned  off]   It  was  exciting  to  see  great  old 


Gothic  buildings  and  all  the  things  that  I  had,  by  this 
time  certainly,  known  quite  a  bit  about,  through  the  various 
people  that  I  had  worked  with—and  [I  had]  done  a  lot  of 
reading,  a  lot  of  studying.   But  I  could  see  why  Cass  Gilbert 
said,  "Draw  it.   Don't  try  to  paint  it."   It  wasn't  paintable 
in  that  sense.   I  went  out  to  a  lot  of  the  small  German 
villages  and  made  lots  of  drawings  for  about  two  or  three 
weeks.   Before  I  left  for  France,  I  met  a  friend  of  mine 
who  had  gone  to  Chouinard,  an  older  man.   He  had  come  down 
from  Canada  as  a  retired  manufacturer  the  last  couple  of 
years  when  I  was  in  Chouinard  and  started  to  paint.   We 
became  very  good  friends.   I  loved  his  wife  and  his  kid. 
He  said,  "If  you're  going  to  be  over  there,  I'll  come  over 
and  meet  you  in  Paris,  and  I'll  buy  a  car,  and  we'll  paint." 
So  we  had  the  most  fantastic  time.   He  came  over.   I  met 
him  in  Paris,  and  we  traveled  for,  I  think,  five  months. 
We  went  all  through  every  part  of  France,  worked  our  way 
down  to  the  Spanish  border,  and  worked  along  the  north 
part  of  Spain  into  Italy.   We  ended  up  in  Venice,  where  I 
became  very  ill.   I  had  some  kind  of  food  poisoning.   I 
really  was  sick.   The  doctors  there  said  you've  got  to  go 
back  to  the  United  States,  or  else  go  to  someplace  like 
Germany,  where  you  have  food  that's  a  little  more  like 
you're  used  to.   Because  of  all  this  rich  food  down  there, 
I  broke  out  in  hives.   Oh,  it  was  terrible.   So  I  returned 
to  Germany,  and  I  was  well  in  a  matter  of  two  or  three 


weeks.   Then  I  went  back  into  Holland  and  France  again  and 
painted.   I  did  a  great  deal  of  painting  as  well  as  drawing, 
but  I  always  kept  the  two  things  going. 

So  when  I  came. back  finally  to  New  York,  I  couldn't 
wait  to  show  Cass  Gilbert  a  lot  of  these  drawings  that  I'd 
made.   I'll  never  forget  as  long  as  I  live,  he  was  very 
intrigued  and  very  pleased  and  very  excited,  until  he  saw 
a  drawing  I  made  of  Mont-Saint-Michel.   He  said,  "It's  a 
beautiful  drawing.   God  damn  you,  you  changed  the  entrance." 
[laughter]   If  you  look  down  that  long  causeway,  you  come 
to  a  dead-end  wall,  and  you  turn  around  to  the  left  and 
then  go  in.   I  thought  it  would  be  better  if  I  just  put 
the  opening  there.   [laughter]   I  got  the  biggest  kick  out 
of  that.   He  knew  Europe  so  well,  he  knew  every  building. 
He  knew  everything.   Oh,  he  was  marvelous.   And  then  when 
I  came  back,  he  ...  . 

GOODWIN:   Let's  talk  a  little  bit  more  about  your  trip. 
Did  you  also  visit  the  great  museums? 

SHEETS:   Oh,  lord,  yes.   I  never  missed  a  museum.   I  saw 
everything  in  Holland  and  France.   When  I  became  ill  in 
Venice,  we  were  headed  down  to  Florence  and  to  Rome,  which 
I  never  did  get  to  at  that  time.   In  fact,  we  were  even 
thinking  of  coming  back  into  Vienna  and  that  area.   But 
we  never  made  any  of  that.   But  I  did  see  the  great 
museums,  and  of  course  that  was  the  most  fantastic  experi- 
ence because  I  was  not  on  a  tour.   I  was  in  no  hurry;  I 


could  spend  as  long  as  I  wanted.   That's  something  I  guess 
I've  never  been  able  to  do  since,  really,  to  the  same 
degree — to  just  revel  in  it. 

GOODWIN:   What  did  you  enjoy  particularly,  among  every- 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  fell  desperately  in  love  with  the  twelfth-, 
thirteenth-,  fourteenth-,  and  fifteenth-century  painting, 
Italian  and  Spanish  particularly.   That  hit  me  harder.   I 
had  never  heard  of  it.   You  know,  I  didn't  know,  hadn't 
heard  anything  about  this  kind  of  thing.   It  was  such  a 
thrill  to  see  these,  the  early  part  of  the  Renaissance. 
I  was  bowled  over  by  the  things  that  were  done  later,  but 
of  course  I  hadn't  gotten  down  to  Italy,  so  I  didn't  see 
the  Michelangelos  or  any  of  these  things,  but  I  think  that 
was  what  hit  me  the  hardest.   I  remember  in  the  Louvre, 
that  fantastic  Piet^  of  Avignon.   I  think  probably  if  I 
had"  to  pick  one  painting  that  I'd  rather  have  than  any 
painting  in  the  world,  I  think  maybe  it  would  be  that. 
It's  a  painting  that  just  hit  me  so  hard  in  1929,  and 
every  time  I  see  it  I  feel  it  all  over  again.   You  know 
the  painting  I  mean?   It's  a  painting  that  I  don't  suppose 
many  other  people  would  feel  the  same  way  about,  but  there's 
something  about  that  painting  that  is  so  ...  .   In  a  way, 
it's  outside  of  the  realm  of  reality.   It's  another  spirit. 
It's  something  I  just  feel  very  deeply  about.   Of  course,  I 
have  always  loved  El  Greco  and  more  emotional  things,  too. 


Well,  that's  pretty  emotional.   But  I  loved  what  I  saw  of 
the  impressionists,  although  strangely  enough  in  France  it 
was  hard  to  see  them  in  those  days.   Here  in  1929  there 
were  no  big  museums  of  French  impressionism.   I'm  sure 
there  were  collections  if  I'd  known  how  to  find  them,  but 
they  were  not  all  over  the  place  like  you  find  them  today. 
I  did  paint  and  did  get  accepted  at  the  Autumn  Salon, 
which  was  an  exciting  thing.   You  know  it  didn't  mean  a 
damn  thing,  except  that  everybody  said  you  have  to  get 
into  a  salon.   I  worked  like  hell,  made  a  painting,  and 
submitted  it.   Then  it  took  like  five  months,  I  think, 
before  you  could  find  out,  but  I  did  make  the  show,  which 
was  fun. 

GOODWIN:   Did  you  actually  draw  and  paint  inside  the 

SHEETS:  No,  I  never  did.  I  never  had  any  feeling  to  do 
that.  I  don't  know  why.  I  guess  maybe  that  guy  [Modra] 
scared  me  to  death  when  he  told  me  never  to  make  a  copy, 

GOODWIN:   That  was  a  traumatic  experience. 

SHEETS:   My  sails  were  trimmed  on  that  because  I  never  had 
the  slightest  desire.   In  those  days,  you  know,  every 
gallery  had  six  or  eight  painters  working  in  the  gallery. 
It  was  very  different  than  today,  when  you  see  one  once 
in  a  while.   But  I  loved  the  Dutch  museums.   Oh,  gosh,  I 
thought  they  were  just  incredible.   The  Vermeers  just  blew 


me  out  of  the  tub.   I  enjoyed  the  Rembrandts .   I  didn't 
understand  them  like  I  do  now,  of  course,  but  the  Vermeers 
just  knocked  me  cold.   It  was  all  such  a  wonderful  new 
kind  of  food,  and  I  never  will  get  over  the  sense  of  the 
excitement  and  the  thrill  of  seeing  these  things. 
GOODWIN:   Did  your  money  run  out?   Is  that  why  you  had  to 
come  back. 

SHEETS:   No,  no.   I  wanted  to  go  home  to  get  married.   I 
met  my  wife  [Mary  Baskerville  Sheets]  about  two  months 
before  I  went  to  Europe,  but  I'd  already  told  this  fellow 
that  I  wanted  to  take  him  because  I  wanted  to  repay  what 
he'd  done  for  me.   Of  course  there  was  a  bad  feeling  in  my 
own  mind.   I  could  have  just  as  easily  taken  her  instead, 
if  her  family  had  let  her  marry  me  then,  which  was  a  ques- 
tion.  She  was  going  to  UCLA.   I  told  you  she  had  her 
senior  year  on  the  new  campus.   So  anyway,  when  I  couldn't 
stand  it  any  longer,  I  came  home,  and  then  three  months 
later  we  were  married. 

GOODWIN:   Did  she  have  art  interests  other  than  you? 
SHEETS:   Yes,  her  sister  [Elizabeth  Baskerville  McNaughton] 
went  to  Chouinard  when  I  did.   She  also  went  to  the 
Pennsylvania  Academy.   I  met  my  wife  through  her.   My 
wife  was  an  art  major,  but  in  those  days  it  was  primarily 
to  teach  teachers  to  teach.   She  has  a  lot  of  ability 
which  she  plays  around  with--she  does  beautiful  tapestry 
weaving  and  things  like  that — but  raising  four  kids  and 


having  fifteen  grandchildren,  she  has  never  felt  that  she 
wanted  to  make  it  a  profession.   She's  reflected  it  in  so 
many  wonderful  ways  in  our  life.   She  has  a  passion  which 
is  deeper  than  mine  about  art,  and  we've  had  such  great 
times  traveling  together.   But  that's  why  I  came  back.   I 
was  planning  to  be  there  at  least  a  year  and  a  half,  and 
I  could  have,  with  the  money  that  kept  coming  in  from  the 
sales  at  the  gallery.   That  would  have  been  very  easy  to 
do  that.   But  I  was  gone  about  six  and  a  half  months  or 
so.   I've  forgotten  exactly  what  it  is. 

But  every  minute  was  loaded  with  excitement.   I  did 
get  special  things,  like  some  of  the  caves  in  France. 
That's  really  something  that  I  hadn't  heard  anything  about, 
either.   It  was  a  pretty  full,  exciting  time.   I  loved  the 
towns,  and  I  loved  the  country. 

There's  a  place  called  Espallion.   The  reason  that  I 
went  there  was  that  I  saw  a  painting  by  Frank  Brangwyn  of 
the  Bridge  of  Espallion,  and  I  thought,  boy,  that  would  be 
a  place  to  go.   So  this  fellow  and  I  headed  down,  and  we 
had  a  hell  of  a  time  finding  it,  but  we  finally  found  it, 
right  on  the  Spanish  border.   It  was  just  the  truest  sense 
of  French  peasant  living  and  a  beautiful,  untouched  thing — 
everybody  gathering  mushrooms  and  doing  the  things  that 
they  do,  at  least  in  a  French  village  in  those  days.   It 
was  marvelous,  the  old  dress  that  they  wore. 

Oh,  one  of  the  most  exciting  things  that  happened  in 


France  was,  I'd  always  heard  about  lithography,  but  no  one 
out  here  did  any  lithography.   So  when  I  got  to  Paris  the 
second  time,  when  I  was  painting  this  picture  for  the  Autumn 
Salon,  I  went  to  several  art  stores.   With  my  utter  lack  of 
French,  it  took  me  a  long  time  to  find  out  who  really  was 
doing  lithography,  where  you  could  go  and  work.   I  found 
out  that  a  Monsieur  Dorfinant,  who  was  really  the  top  man 
in  those  days,  had  a  workshop  where  all  the  artists  went 
to  do  the  work.   Instead  of  doing  the  work  at  home  and 
taking  it  there  to  be  printed,  they  would  go  up  there,  and 
he  gave  them  very  nice  places  to  work.   The  stones  were 
there,  and  then  they  would  roll  it  up  right  there  and  see 
your  proofs,  and  then  they'd  run  your  edition.   So  I'll 
never  forget  climbing  about  four  stories,  in  this  old — I 
think  it  was  a  thirteenth-,  fourteenth-century  building. 
The  stairs  leaned,  and  you  had  a  hell  of  a  time  getting 
up,  but  I  finally  got  up  to  the  top,  and  right  at  the  top 
step  was  a  door.   I  knocked  on  the  door,  the  door  burst 
open,  and  the  most  pleasant-looking,  wonderful  woman,  huge, 
big — both  ways--stood  at  the  top  of  the  door  and  rattled 
off  this  French,  and  I  didn't  know  what  the  hell  she  was 
talking  about.   I  had  a  portfolio  under  my  arm,  and  then 
just  like  mamacita,  she  reached  down  and  took  my  hands  and 
walked  me  into  the  room  and  jabbered  away.   Then  pretty 
soon  this  little  tiny  man  came  around  the  corner.   He  was 
just  as  little  and  squirrel-like  as  she  was  big.   They  were 


both  so  gracious.  They  couldn't  speak  a  word  of  English, 
but  I  just  knew  that  I  was  in  the  right  place.  They  were 
just  marvelous. 

I  didn't  know  how  to  say,  "I  want  to  make  a  litho- 
graph," but  there  were  lithographs  all  around  the  place, 
and  I  finally  had  enough  sense  to  open  this  portfolio  and 
show  him  a  couple  of  these  architectural  drawings  that  I 
had  made.   He  nodded  and  was  very  sober,  and  no  more  fan- 
fare.  He  just  takes  me  over  to  a  beautiful  big  table,  and 
he  checks  the  size  of  my  drawing.   He  goes  over  and  gets  a 
big  stone,  or  he  had  a  boy  that  did  it,  brought  it  over 
and  set  it  down — put  all  the  crayons  and  the  pencils  down, 
and  just  more  or  less  said,  "Go  to  it." 

Well,  hell,  I  didn't  know  how  to  go  to  it,  but  I 
looked  around  and  here  in  this  room  there  were  about  eight 
artists  working,  and  I  could  see  they  were  just  scratching 
and  pushing,  so  I  started  scratching  and  pushing.   I  didn't 
know  that  through  the  door  right  there  [pointing  to  a  door] , 
into  a  little  place  about  as  big  as  that  kitchen,  was  Henri 
Matisse  working.   I  didn't  know  who  the  hell  he  was.   No, 
I  knew  who  Henri  Matisse  was,  but  I  didn't  know  that's  who 
it  was  in  there.   There  were  about  six  of  the  top  artists 
of  the  period  that  were  working  there.   I  was  there  more 
or  less  for  about  three  weeks  off  and  on,  and  it  was  a 
ball.   I  met  sculptors,  and  they  were  doing  lithos.   I 
met  painters,  and  it  was  great.   There  were  some  artists 


doing  posters  for  the  theater,  and  it  was  really  an 

exciting  thing. 

well,  of  course,  I  made  my  first  drawing,  and  Dorfinant 
would  come  around  every  once  in  a  while  and  mumble,  and 
then  he'd  go  on.   Finally,  I  ran  out  of  knowing  what  to  do. 
It  looked  to  me  like  as  far  as  I  could  carry  it.   I  went 
over,  and  I  touched  him  on  the  arm,  and  he  smiled.   And  he 
came  over,  and  he  looked  at  it,  and  he  said,  "Mmm,  oui." 
With  that,  he  pours  the  gum  arabic  on  it  and  slops  it  all 
around.   He  takes  a  big  old  thing  and  just  swirls  it  around. 
After  he  did  that,  he  just  poured  some  liquid  on  it  and  took 
a  big  sponge  and  just  washed  my  drawing  off.   I  thought, 
"Well,  you  son  of  a  bitch,  I  know  you're  French  and  you're 
expressing  your  utter  disgust  over  my  drawing,  but  couldn't 
you  give  me  a  little  warning."   I  guess  the  look  on  my  face 
must  have  been  really  one  of  complete  shock  because  instantly 
everybody  in  that  place  just  burst  out  laughing.   Oh,  it 
was  so  funny.   A  couple  of  guys  came  over,  and  one  guy  had 
a  bottle  of  wine,  and  he  poured  a  little  glass.   He  handed 
me  this  glass,  and  he  took  a  glass,  and  he  tilted  it  up, 
and  we  drank.   I  didn't  know.   I  think  maybe,  you  know, 
I'm  being  buried,  and  this  is  my  farewell  wake  or  some- 
thing.  Then,  of  course,  Dorfinant  really  laughed.   After 
they  cleaned  it  all  up  and  he  got  it  etched  up  or  whatever 
he  does,  then  he  starts  rolling  it  up.   It's  like  a  miracle 
to  see  this  thing  come  back.   Four  or  five  rolls,  and  it's 


back.   Well,  before  I  left  there,  I  met  more  interesting 
guys  and  two  or  three  Americans  that  came  up  a  lot.   They 
were  just  marvelous  to  me. 

And  you  know,  I've  thought  about  that  again.   Here  I 
was,  I  was  twenty-one — well,  that's  old  enough,  but  it 
wasn't  like  twenty-one  today;  there  was  no  background  or 
sophistication  or  anything  else.   I  stumbled  up  there.   I 
can't  even  speak  French,  and  they  treated  me  like  I  made 
sense.   You  know,  it  was  the  most  marvelous  feeling  of 
being  accepted.   I  used  to  write  to  Dorfinant  for  years-- 
I 'd  have  to  write  in  English — and  then  he  had  a  friend 
that  translated  it.   Then  he'd  write  me  one  in  French, 
and  I'd  have  to  go  up  to  the  college  [Scripps]  and  have 
somebody  translate  it.   But  they  were  just  like  mother 
and  father  to  me  for  those  three  weeks  that  I  was  there. 
GOODWIN:   Did  you  meet  anybody  in  Europe  with  whom  you've 
maintained  a  friendship? 

SHEETS:   At  that  time?   Well,  of  course,  since,  just 
dozens,  but  I  don't  think  so.   Everybody's  dead.   See, 
I  was  a  kid,  and  I  did  maintain  friendships  with  certain 
ones  in  Germany,  particularly  architects  and  people  that 
taught  at  the  Bauhaus,  but  they're  all  gone.   I  don't 
think  a  soul  I  knew  is  there  today. 
GOODWIN:   How  did  your  friend  fare  at  the  Bauhaus? 
SHEETS:   Well,  he  did  pretty  well.   I  think  he's  the  one 
that  suffered  the  most  from  the  fact  that  he  couldn't 


stay  a  couple,  three  years.   He  should  have  stayed  at  least 
two  or  three  years.   What  they  were  doing  was  very  inter- 
esting and  very  exciting.   He  spent  about  three  months 
longer  than  I  did.   He  got  home  in  time  to  be  my  best  man 
when  I  was  married,  and  I  think  he  shouldn't  have  even 
tried  to  do  that,  but  he  did.   I  think  if  he  had  stayed 
over  there  for  at  least  another  year  or  two,  it  would  have 
gotten  through  to  him,  but  he  really  gave  up  architecture 
after  that  and  became  a  business  manager  for  an  architect. 
He  did  a  very  good  job.   It  was  too  big  a  cultural  shock, 
too  big  of  everything.   I  was,  you  know,  just  kind  of 
blundering  through  and  didn't  get  stopped  cold  like  he 
did.   He  enjoyed  it,  he  enjoyed  it  very  much.   He  thoroughly 
enjoyed  studying  the  things  that  were  being  done  in  Germany. 
In  Holland  particularly,  some  of  the  most  beautiful  buildings 
were  being  done  in  Holland  in  those  days.   I  think  they've 
been  overlooked.   Maybe  it's  only  because;  I've  overlooked 
them,  but  I  think  there  were  buildings  being  built,  com- 
mercial buildings  and  flats  and  apartments  and  things  like 
that,  that  were  extraordinarily  good  for  their  time.   They 
included  quite  a  bit  of  art  in  and  through  them,  which 
wasn't  being  done  much  anywhere  else.   Even  in  Germany — 
well,  in  Germany  to  a  degree,  in  England  some.   We  also 
spent  some  time  in  England  on  that  trip — in  fact,  left 
England  to  come  back.   But  it  was  a  rich,  full  dose,  par- 
ticularly when  you  always  went  to  bed  so  pooped  out  from 


just  having  experienced  so  much  in  seeing,  and  then  I  was 
working  so  many  hours.   I  never  put  in  less  than  six, 
probably  sometimes  seven  or  eight  hours  a  day  drawing 
or  painting,  in  addition  to,  you  know,  going  to  galleries 
and  traveling. 

GOODWIN:   So  what  happened  after  you  came  back  and  were 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  had  a  big  show  shortly  after  I  came  back, 
at  Hatfield's.   It  was  very  successful  from  the  point  of 
view  of  sales.   I  never  thought  it  was  a  good  show.   It 
would  have  been,  if  I  had  perhaps  waited  another  year  and 
let  it  soak  a  little  bit.   I  brought  back  a  lot  of  sketches 
and  a  lot  of  drawings  and  paintings  that  I  made  over  there. 
I'm  not  unproud  of  those  sketches.   I  don't  mean  that,  but 
I  think  that  they  were  more  off-the-cuff  than  any  show  I've 
ever  had  after  that.   People  liked  them.   I  made  the  mis- 
take of  selling  and  giving  away  so  many  of  the  drawings 
and  studies  that  I  made  over  there  that  I 'd  just  love  to 
have  now  for  sentimental  reasons.   I  have  a  few,  but  the 
best  ones  are  all  gone. 

GOODWIN:   What  were  the  prices  for  those  works? 
SHEETS:   Oh,  I  think  I  sold  some  of  the  best  drawings  I 
made  over  there  for  like  $25  or  $30  or  $35.   Watercolors, 
$75;  oils,  $200,  tops.   But  of  course  money  meant  some- 
thing, too.   The  dollars  meant  something.   But  they  were 
not  staggering  as  far  as  the  prices  were  concerned.   But 


one  of  the  things  I've  been  grateful  for  is  that  Hatfield 
has  sold  approximately  3,000  paintings  over  the  years, 
practically  all  that  I  produced. 


NOVEMBER  30,  1976 

GOODWIN:   Last  session  we  ended  with  Mr.  Sheets ' s  return 
from  Europe,  his  marriage,  and  a  show  of  some  of  his 
European  works  at  the  Hatfield  Gallery.   Today  I'd  like 
to  pick  up  with  a  discussion  of  some  more  of  Millard 
Sheets ' s  teaching  activities.   You  taught  at  various 
schools,  in  addition  to  Chouinard ,  in  the  twenties,  and 
one  of  the  schools  was  the  University  of  Hawaii.   How 
did  that  come  about? 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  was  invited  to  teach  in  the  summer  session 
of  1935.   It  was  a  very  exciting  thing  to  just  go  to  Hawaii 
in  those  days.   Of  course,  you  just  did  it  by  boat.   There 
were  no  planes.   So  I  took  ray  wife,  and  we  had  a  wonderful 
time  in  Hawaii,  except  that  she  was  pregnant  with  our 
second  child  and  had  to  come  home  ahead  of  me.   But  we 
did  have  a  marvelous  summer.   Then  I  went  back  again  the 
following  year.   Then,  I  believe,  it  was  the  University  of 
California  the  following  year  of  summer  session.   I  taught 
there  two  years.   Interspaced  were,  I  think  it  was,  a 
night  class  that  I  taught  at  USC  School  of  Architecture: 
watercolor  painting  and  delineation  and  things  connected 
with  architecture. 

GOODWIN:   What  exactly  is  delineation? 
SHEETS:   Well,  it  simply  means  that  when  an  architect 


designs  a  building,  in  order  to  show  a  client  what  it's 
going  to  look  like,  he  hires  (if  he  doesn't  have  the 
capacity  himself)  an  artist  to  make  a  painting  of  what 
it's  going  to  look  like.   That's  simply  called,  generally, 
delineation — or  rendering,  but  generally  the  word  deline- 
ation is  used.   In  fact,  during  the  Depression  I  could  have 
spent  full  time  doing  delineation.   I  did  a  great  many  in 
the  late  twenties.   I  think  I  mentioned  the  fact  that  I 
had  classes  of  architects,  and  I  was  teaching  etching  and 
became  such  good  close  friends  of  many,  many  good  architects 
that  they  wanted  me  to  do  these  delineations.   I  liked  doing 
them  because  I  really  enjoy  the  problems  that  are  involved 
in  projection,  and  I  had  to  learn  a  great  deal  that  I 
wouldn't  have  learned  otherwise  if  I  hadn't  made  those 
delineations.   I  remember  I  had  a  theater,  one  of  the 
first  delineations  that  I  had.   I  think  I  had  nine 
vanishing  points,  because  it  was  octagonal,  it  was  oblique, 
and  it  had  a  lot  of  funny  angles  to  it.   I  had  to  learn  a 
lot  that  I'd  never  known  existed  before. 

GOODWIN:   Did  you  essentially  teach  yourself  delineation? 
SHEETS:   Yes,  yes.   I'd  always  loved  to  do  architectural 
things — old  barns  and  buildings  and  street  scenes  and  that 
kind  of  thing — so  it  wasn't  really  much  of  a  problem  to 
shift  over  into  doing  contemporary  things.   Even  in  those 
days  they  were  doing  a  lot  of  Italian  Riviera  kind  of 
things  in  Southern  California.   They  did  everything  from 


Eskimo  igloos  to  Chinese  theaters,  as  you  well  know,  all 

of  which  I  painted  as  delineations  for  architects  and 

sometimes  just  as  paintings. 

GOODWIN:   You  also  did  some  teaching  at  the  Stickney  Art 

Institute.   What's  that? 

SHEETS:   The  Stickney  Art  Institute  was  a  small  but  very 

good  little  school  in  Pasadena.   The  Stickney  Foundation, 

I  think  it  was  by  the  time  I  taught  there — I  believe  it 

was  left  by  the  Stickney  family — had  a  small  school  where 

they  taught  life  drawing  and  painting  and  design  and 

sculpture  and,  I  believe,  dance.   It  was  a  good  little 

school.   It  was  a  fine  little  school.   It  unfortunately 

lacked  enough  support  to  go  on  indefinitely,  but  I  taught 

there,  I  think,  two  sessions. 

GOODWIN:   Where  was  it  located? 

SHEETS:   It  was  located  on  Fair  Oaks  Avenue.   North  Fair 

Oaks.   It  had  been  an  old  garden — it's  all  been  torn  out 

now — about  where  that  new  freeway  goes  through.   But  it 

was  a  nice  little  institute,  and  lots  of  good  people  came 

out  of  that — Milton  Bradbrooks  and  a  whole  group  of  people. 

GOODWIN:   Was  it  a  college-level  school? 

SHEETS:   Not  really.   It  was  more  like  Chouinard.   It  was 

a  professional  arts  school,  with  fairly  demanding  standards 

but  without  diploma. 

GOODWIN:   You  began  teaching  at  Chouinard  while  you  were 

a  student  there,  but  you  continued  teaching. 


SHEETS:   I  started  teaching  a  watercolor  class  in  the 
beginning  of  my  third  year  at  Chouinard  or  the  latter 
part  of  my  second  year,  I  can't  remember  for  sure.   Many 
of  us  wanted  to  do  watercolor,  and  I  was  doing  them  without 
much  knowledge  of  what  watercolor  painting  was  about,  but 
I  was  painting  in  watercolor  because  I  was  intrigued.   Mrs. 
Chouinard  felt,  as  the  school  didn't  have  a  landscape 
class,  that  it  would  be  good  for  me  to  experiment  and  try 
teaching  a  landscape  class.   All  the  students  didn't  work 
in  watercolor.   Some  of  them  worked  in  oil,  which  I  had 
worked  in  practically  all  my  life.   It  turned  out  to  be  a 
very  thriving  class  and  became  a  major  class  in  the  school. 
I  taught  landscape  painting  there  for,  oh,  I  guess  six  or 
seven  years,  before  I  had  to  give  it  up  on  account  of  my 
work  at  Scripps.   I  also  taught  life  drawing  and  life 
painting  at  Chouinard,  in  addition  to  landscape.   It's  a 
tough  problem  when  you  start  teaching  people  that  you 
started  to  school  with,  but  it  was  exciting  and  the 
students  were  great.   They  were  very  cooperative  and 
didn't  feel  like  their  nose  was  out  of  joint.   So  it 
was  a  great  experience.   We  worked  very  hard. 
GOODWIN:   You're  given  a  great  deal  of  credit  for  reviving 
work  in  watercolor  painting.   Who  were  your  examples  when 
you  began  work  in  watercolor? 

SHEETS:   Well,  there  weren't  too  many  people  painting  in 
watercolor  here.   Henri  De  Kruif  was  a  very  good  painter 


and  he  intrigued  me  very  much.   He  was  the  first  painter 
that  I  knew  that  was  painting  watercolors  seriously.   He 
didn't  ever  paint  in  oils,  as  far  as  I  know.   There  were 
two  or  three  other  people.   I  think  [Edouard]  Vysekal ,  who 
taught  at  Otis  in  those  days,  was  painting  some  watercolor, 
and  two  or  three  others.   There  was  a  watercolor  society, 
called  the  California  Watercolor  Society,  but  I  don't 
believe  it  had  over  twenty  or  twenty-five  members,  and 
most  of  those  were  not  particularly  strong  painters.   But 
I  became  very,  very  interested,  particularly  from  my  trip 
to  New  York  in  1939,  where  for  the  first  time  I  saw 
Winslow  Homer  in  the  Metropolitan  and  then  in  Brooklyn 
[Museum] .   I  made  special  pilgrimages  to  both  of  those 
places  the  minute  I  arrived  in  New  York,  because  I  had 
seen  a  book  or  two  on  Winslow  Homer,  and  it  was  a  very 
exciting  thing  for  me  to  see  the  originals.   It  all  looked 
so  kind  of  common-sensible  and  not  mixed  up  with  a  lot  of 
theory.   I  think  that  had  a  lot  to  do  with  the  fact  that 
I  practically  only  painted  watercolor  for  several  years. 
GOODWIN:   Did  you  study  watercolor  painting  with  Modra  or 

SHEETS:   Well,  Hinkle  never  worked  in  watercolor.   Modra 
painted  in  watercolor,  but  interestingly  enough,  when  I 
was  working  with  Mr.  Modra,  we  worked  entirely  in  oil. 
He  didn't  ever  particularly  push  the  idea  of  watercolor 
painting.   He  was  a  member  of  the  Watercolor  Society,  and 


I'm  sure  that  he  introduced  me  to  Henri  De  Kruif  and  to 
another  painter  by  the  name  of  Carl  Yens,  who  lived  in 
Laguna  Beach,  who  was  quite  a  character.   He  also  painted 
watercolor.   Those  were  the  people  that  really  sort  of 
wakened  me  up  to  the  fact  that  this  was  a  serious  medium 
and  that  it  was  an  exciting  medium  to  travel  with,  par- 

I  loved  to  take  trips ,  even  though  they  were  short 
trips  in  those  days,  and  go  and  paint  for  a  week  at  a  time 
or  two  weeks  at  a  time.   I  went  up  into  the  Santa  Ynez 
River  Valley  and  spent  weekend  after  weekend  up  there, 
like  four-  or  five-day  weekends,  rather  than  two-day 
weekends.   I  spent  a  tremendous  amount  of  time  at  the 
old  Terminal  Island  fish  harbor  down  in  Long  Beach,  when 
they  had  a  fantastic  city  of  Japanese.   There  must  have 
been  3,000  Japanese.   Most  of  them  couldn't  speak  a  word 
of  English.   They  were  all  from  Japan.   All  the  customs 
and  their  festivals  and  the  Sumo  wrestlers,  these  mar- 
velous big  wrestlers  that  they  had.   I've  seen  all  of  the 
festivals  down  there.   I  used  to  see  them  three  or  four 
or  five  times  a  year,  and  I'd  go  down  there  and  camp  right 
on  the  dock.   They  all  knew  me,  and  I  painted  down  there 
literally  for  years.   Watercolor  was  so  easy  to  transport, 
as  against  having  a  bunch  of  sticky  canvases  and  whatnot 
to  worry  about.   You'd  finish  in  five  minutes,  you  put  it 
in  your  portfolio,  and  that's  it.   It's  something  you  can 
pick  up  more  easily. 


If  you  work  in  oil,  you  really  should  be  very  consistent 
and  work  with  it  on  through.   If  you  stop  and  then  start, 
unless  you  are  very  careful  about  scraping,  it  cracks  even- 
tually.  I  was  taught  that  craftsmanship  was  important  in 
the  way  you  handled  the  material.   I  loved  to  paint  in  oil 
and  particularly  love  acrylic  for  murals.   But  watercolor 
is  the  most  marvelous  thing  in  the  world  because  I  very 
often  work  on  a  painting  I  started  maybe  ten  years  ago 
that  I  wasn't  interested  in  at  the  time  enough  to  complete. 
You  dig  it  out,  and  you  see  something  there,  and  you  may 
change  it  tremendously,  but  there's  no  reason  why  you  just 
can't  go  ahead.   You  don't  have  these  technical  problems 
at  all. 

GOODWIN:   What  are  the  basic  steps  in  painting  a  water- 

SHEETS:   Well,  it  depends,  I  suppose,  on  the  particular 
artist  you  talk  to.   But  some  people  make  watercolor  a 
very  precious  medium  and  say  you  can't  ever  work  over  a 
wash  again.   That  is  the  first  time,  and  that's  it.   Other 
people  have  every  kind  of  theory  about  it.   But  if  you 
look  at  the  history  of  watercolor,  and  you  trace  it  from 
the  early  wash  drawings  that  were  made  in  the  Renaissance 
and  on  down  through  the  English  watercolors  particularly, 
who  really  made  wash  drawing  ....   They  made  beautiful 
pencil  drawings  and  tinted  a  little  bit  of  color,  until 
Turner  came  along.   He  began  to  really  paint  with  this  as 


a  medium— nothing  in  the  way  of  the  strength,  perhaps,  of 
Winslow  Homer,  but  nevertheless  they  were  big  eye-openers 
in  the  whole  development  of  painting.   His  whole  kaleido- 
scopic sense  of  color  and  light  and  movement,  which  he 
developed  both  in  his  oil  and  his  watercolor,  were  very 
painterly.   They  were  not  tinted  drawings,  although  he 
did  do  lots  of  tinted  drawings,  too.   He  made  hundreds  and 
hundreds  of  studies  in  watercolor  that  were  more  like  the 
traditional  use  of  watercolor,  but  he  also  took  it  way 
beyond  that  in  his  serious  painting.   Then  when  Winslow 
Homer  came  along,  he  really  changed  the  medium  from  any- 
thing like  a  ladylike  tea  party  into  some  honest-to-God 
painting.   I  don't  think  he  even  thought  of  the  medium  as 
being  precious  or  that  you  had  to  say,  "This  is  a  water- 
color."   He  made  a  painting.   I  think  this  is  what  excited 
me  about  it  and  why  I  feel  that  there  should  be  no  rules 
or  inhibitions. 

First  of  all,  I  don't  think  there's  anything  that 
you  can  do  in  oil  that  you  can't  do  in  watercolor  and 
keep  it  fresh,  keep  it  alive.   I  don't  think  that  there's 
any  key,  whether  it's  high  or  low  or  in  the  middle  or  way 
down  in  the  bass  notes,  that  you  can't  do  in  watercolor  if 
you've  learned  enough  about  the  medium  to  keep  it  luminous, 
and  that  is  just  a  matter  of  relationship,  both  in  color 
and  in  texture.   I  think  that  it  was  this  desire  to  push 
it  beyond  a  certain  point  that  kept  me  going. 


I  felt  after  about  fifteen  or  twenty  years  that  I'd 
hit  a  dead  end.   I  couldn't  go  beyond  a  certain  point.   It 
took  me  at  least  a  year — it  should  have  taken  probably  five 
minutes — it  took  me  at  least  a  year  to  discover  why  I  was 
inhibited,  why  I  was  unable  to  go  beyond  a  certain  point. 
It  was  this  idea  that  you  had  to  leave  this  one  first  over 
clear,  translucent  wash,  and  lots  of  little  white  speckles 
here  and  there,  like  Winslow  Homer  did  and  a  lot  of  other 
people  did,  to  make  watercolor  look  like  a  watercolor . 
Then  I  suddenly  realized  that  a  painting  has  a  pitch  the 
same  as  a  musical  composition.   If  you  have  a  high  note 
and  a  low  note  on  a  piano  keyboard,  every  composer  doesn't 
extend  their  composition  to  both  ends.   They  can  take  the 
center,  third,  or  three-fourths  down  for  a  quarter,  or  up 
towards  the  top,  and  they  can  compose.   Well,  an  artist 
has  to  do  exactly  the  same  thing  in  making  a  serious 
painting.   Where  do  you  want  to  pitch  the  painting?   First, 
in  value,  in  dark  and  light.   Secondly,  in  terms  of  the 
intensity  of  color  or  the  relationship  between  muted  and 
intense  color.   All  these  things  you  have  to  preordain, 
if  you're  going  to  make  a  serious  painting.   You  have  to 
decide  before  you  start  where  it  belongs.   If  you  go  at 
it  just  kind  of  methodically  and  let  it  work  out,  it 
always  looks  like  that,  too,  at  the  end.   I  found  in  water- 
color,  the  minute  I  really  determined  the  pitch  and  where 
the  pure  color  was  to  be  and  what  shapes  were  to  be 


important,  then  I  no  longer  thought  about  it  as  a  water- 
color;  I  thought  about  it  as  a  painting.  The  moment  I 
did  that  I  felt  free,  and  that's  why  I  think  it's  such  a 
fantastic  medium.  Everybody  says  it's  so  precious  and 
difficult;  I  think  it's  the  easiest  medium  in  the  world. 
Mechanically,  if  you  learn  that  water  runs  downhill,  and 
you  know  something  about  drawing,  and  have  a  feeling  for 
design,  and  work  hard  to  do  what  I've  been  talking  about 
in  terms  of  setting  value  schemes  and  color  intensities, 
it's  so  much  easier  than  sticky  oil. 

GOODWIN:   Do  you  do  a  preliminary  drawing  when  you  make  a 
watercolor  painting? 

SHEETS:   Sometimes.   Do  you  mean  on  the  paper  itself? 
GOODWIN:   Yeah. 

SHEETS:   Yes,  I  do  a  minimum  amount  of  it.   I  don't  like 
to  make  a  finished  drawing  of  any  kind  and  then  try  to 
tint  between  the  lines.   I  lay  out  very  quickly,  and  with 
the  greatest  economy,  the  basic  lines,  the  basic  shapes, 
and  then  just  go  right  into  it  and  paint  and  draw  with  my 
brush.   I  like  to  work  from  the  more  general  toward  the 
particular — in  other  words,  get  the  whole  thing  swimming 
in  some  kind  of  a  hopefully  interesting  juice  that  gives 
it  this  color  chord  that  separates  good  painting  from 
ordinary  painting.   If  you  can  get  that  color  chord  going 
and  get  your  big  shapes  and  values  established,  then  you 
can  work  as  long  as  you  want  on  development,  on  refinement 


of  detail  if  you  wish  that,  to  include  detail.   Or  you 
can  spend  more  time  even  getting  it  more  simple,  depending 
on  what  your  feeling  is  about  the  subject. 

I  like  to  think  that  every  subject  presents  a  different 
problem.   I  think  it's  much  more  exciting  if  you  can  keep 
from  the  sense  that  you're  painting  yardage.   I  think  that 
sometimes  you  see  an  exhibition  and  it  looks  like  someone 
cut  off,  every  three  feet,  a  piece  of  the  same  color  tone, 
the  same  shapes,  and  the  same  character.   I  think  an 
artist  reaches  a  point  where  they're  imposing  a  style 
without  much  feeling  for  the  world  around  them  when  that 
happens.   I  feel  that  if  you're  really  interested  in  life 
and  the  wonderful  things  that  exist,  there  are  no  two 
moments  alike,  and  there  are  no  two  experiences,  no  two 
subjects  certainly  that  should  draw  out  the  same  response. 
I  like  the  idea,  whether  it's  in  watercolor  or  oil  or 
acrylic,  whatever  the  medium  is,  to  set  this  chord  right 
and  get  the  shapes  working.   The  more  you  study  the  basic 
character  that  exists,  the  more  you're  apt  to  simplify 
rather  than  to  refine,  but  it's  just  a  nice  evolutionary 

GOODWIN:   How  much  time  would  you  spend  on  a  typical  water- 
color  painting? 

SHEETS:   Oh,  I  guess  the  proper  answer  is  fifty  years  .  .  . 
GOODWIN:   Or  "the  necessary  amount." 

SHEETS:   But  that's  too  often  used  as  a  way  of  escaping 
the  fact. 


GOODWIN:   Are  they  really  dashed  off? 

SHEETS:   They  vary  enormously.   Some  of  the  best  water- 
colors  I've  ever  painted,  I've  painted  in  an  hour.   I've 
spent  two  weeks  on  others  that  I  thought  were  just  as  good. 
If  there's  a  reason  to  go  on  and  keep  building  for  some- 
thing, then  you  go  on--not  merely  to  refine  but,  as  I  said 
a  moment  ago,  maybe  go  the  opposite  way,  to  simplify  and 
broaden  the  punch  that  you're  interested  in.   That's 
another  thing  I  love  about  the  medium.   I  don't  think 
it's  possible  to  go  too  far  with  watercolor.   All  you 
have  to  do  is  put  it  under  the  faucet  and  take  a  sponge 
and  lightly  remove  what  you've  put  on,  or  part  of  it,  and 
go  right  on.   You  can  sponge  down  any  dark.   I've  sponged 
down  pure  black  and  made  it  pure  white  without  any  diffi- 
culty, if  I've  found  I  wanted  to  move  a  shape  for  some 
reason,  that  I've  made  a  mistake  in  the  impact.   If  you 
don't  just  rub  the  color  into  the  paper,  you  can  (with 
care,  with  a  few  pieces  of  paper  as  guards  to  the  edges) 
you  can  just  lift  (always  with  one  stroke,  and  wash  your 
sponge  completely  and  take  a  new,  clean  swipe  at  it) 
you  can  take  from  black  to  white  in  nothing  flat.   It's 
a  great  medium  because  you're  not  stuck  with  it,  and  it 
gets  over  that  precious  attitude  that  so  many  people  have. 

To  answer  your  question,  anywhere  from  one  hour  to 
two  weeks. 

GOODWIN:   But  you  would  normally  paint  a  watercolor  in 
one  sitting? 


SHEETS:   Well,  I  like  to  work  both  indoors  and  outdoors. 
I  like  to  work  outdoors,  and  I  work  very  rapidly,  as  com- 
pared to  a  great  many  people,  because  I've  been  at  it,  1 
guess,  so  long,  and  I've  trained  myself  to  do  it.   Very 
often  I  will  work  very  rapidly  for  an  hour  or  maybe  two 
hours  outdoors,  then  bring  it  back  to  the  studio  and  flip 
it  in  a  frame  and  have  it  around  for  a  few  days  while  I'm 
working  on  other  things.   Out  of  the  corner  of  the  eye, 
you  look  at  this  painting,  and  you  begin  to  see  all  of 
the  things  that  need  to  be  really  done.   I'm  speaking  of 
one  now  that  hasn't  been  tickled  up  with  a  lot  of  silly 
refinement,  but  where  you  have  the  basic  chords  set  and 
the  basic  shapes  set.   Living  with  that  a  few  days,  it's 
just  as  though  someone  else  had  painted  it.   You  can  look 
at  it  with  all  the  freshness  in  the  world  and  say,  "Well, 
that  needs  to  be  kicked  right  here,  hard;  this  thing  needs 
to  be  pushed,"  or  "I've  got  something  there,  and  I'm  going 
to  preserve;  and  whatever  I  do  in  the  way  of  refinement, 
I'm  not  going  to  let  that  get  away."   That's  sometimes  the 
hardest  thing  of  all.   It's  not  so  hard  to  come  in  and 
tear  it  apart.   But  if  you've  got  something  you  know  is 
right,  it's  very  magic,  in  a  sense,  to  go  on  with  it. 
The  addition  of  almost  anything  sometimes  becomes  a  hell 
of  a  problem,  and  you  have  to  be  extremely  careful  that 
you  aren't  going  to  get  lost  in  small  questions.   Now, 
that's  when  you  go  outdoors. 


Now  I  like  nothing  better — before  I  go  to  sleep  at 
night,  maybe  I've  been  reading  a  long  time,  and  suddenly 
ideas  will  begin  to  develop.   I  may  take  a  piece  of  paper, 
sitting  up  in  bed  with  just  a  pen,  and  make  three  or  four 
pen  scratches — not  make  any  attempt  to  do  anything  that 
anybody  else  would  give  a  damn  about,  but  to  me  it  would 
set  the  whole  working  thing  in  progress  in  my  head.   By 
the  next  morning,  I  can  go  out  to  the  studio,  having  done 
that  at  night — maybe  there's  something  in  your  subconscious, 
I  don't  know  what  it  is — and  I  can  just  start  right  in  and 
paint  like  mad  and  be  sure  I  know  where  I'm  going.   I've 
had  this  happen  so  often  that  I'm  beginning  to  believe  it. 
I'd  rather  work  this  way,  really,  than  going  outdoors, 
although  I  love  both.   I  think  an  artist  probably  has  to 
do  both,  to  not  lose  track  of  the  fact  that  there  is  an 
infinite,  wonderful  magic  about  life  that  surrounds  you. 
I  think  if  you  want  to  say,  "I've  got  it  all  digested  and 
I  don't  need  to  go  back,"  I  think  there's  something  kind 
of  smug  and  small  about  that. 

But  I  love  particularly  working  from — not  memory  but 
from  a  spirit  of  something  that  hits  you  hard.   Maybe  ten 
years  before.   Lots  of  the  paintings  I'm  doing  today  are 
made  from  a  very  minute  pen  scratch  that  I  made  ten  years 
ago.   I  have  hundreds  of  notebooks  filled  with  drawings  on 
every  page.   Sometimes  just  thumbing  through  these,  I'll 
see  something,  "Oh,  boy,  I'm  going  to  paint  that."   It's 


more  vivid,  the  part  that  matters  today  in  your  mind,  than 
what  your  eyes  saw,  because  now  you're  talking  about  what 
you  know,  and  not  what  you  see.   And  they're  two  different 
things:   the  things  you  know,  the  things  you've  really 
digested,  and  you've  really  analyzed  and  you've  really 
observed,  and  you  really  care  about.   This  is  when  I  do 
my  best  painting.   There's  no  question  about  it. 
GOODWIN:   Did  you  always  paint  through  an  entire  day  or  do 
you  prefer  working,  say,  in  the  morning  or  the  evening? 
SHEETS:   No,  I  don't  necessarily  move  by,  as  they  say,  the 
mood.   I'm  always  in  the  mood  for  painting.   I  can't  get 
out  of  it.   Sometimes  I  get  absolutely  pooped,  and  I  just 
can't  maybe  do  good  work,  and  I'll  just  go  and  lie  down 
for  a  half  an  hour.   I've  got  a  place  in  my  studio  where 
I  can,  and  I'll  get  up  and  feel  like  a  million  dollars  and 
work  another  few  hours.   But  I  like  to  paint,  as  a  rule, 
from  eight- thirty  or  nine  in  the  morning  until  dark.   Very 
often  I  go  back  after  dinner  and  work  two  or  three  hours 
at  night.   That's  when  I  feel  the  best.   If  I  could 
organize  my  life  that  well  .... 
GOODWIN:   Weekends,  too? 

SHEETS:   Yes.   I  suppose  if  I  analyze  my  life,  I  would  say 
that  I've  done  more  painting  on  the  weekends.   When  I  say 
weekend,  I  don't  mean  merely  Saturday  and  Sunday,  but  as 
many  hours  and  days  as  I  can  tack  on  top  of  that,  because 
that's  when  I  don't  have  to  do  something  else  sometimes. 


I  don't  get  the  feeling  ever  that  I'm  being  pressed  when 
I'm  painting.   I  just  feel  so  excited  to  be  able  to  paint 
when  I  often  have  to  do  other  things  that  I  get  tired 
physically,  but  I  never  get  tired  mentally. 
GOODWIN:   Getting  back  to  Chouinard  a  little  bit  more, 
what  kinds  of  points  would  you  typically  cover  in  a 
drawing  class?   What  would  the  curriculum  of  drawing 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  believe  that  drawing  is  so  important  as 
a  discipline  and,  I  think,  opposite  to  the  two  streams  of 
contention  that  generally  are  formed  about  drawing.   There's 
the  academic  approach  that  says,  well,  you've  got  to  be  able 
to  draw  a  cast,  and  you've  got  to  be  able  to  draw  every 
muscle,  and  you've  got  to  be  able  to  do  this  thing  aca- 
demically if  you're  going  to  be  free.   Or  the  other  group 
that  say  if  you  get  down  into  that  kind  of  detail  that 
you're  going  to  lose  your  imagination,  and  therefore  you 
just  emote  on  a  piece  of  paper.   Now,  I  think  both  of 
these  two  different  extremes  are  not  only  extreme,  but  I 
think  they're  dead  ends.   I  think  that  drawing  is  the 
easiest  way  to  grapple  with  the  problems  of  structure. 

Every  artist  must  have  the  ability  to  understand 
and  to  control,  whether  it's  in  carving  wood  or  modeling 
in  clay  or  making  a  drawing  or  making  a  painting.   You 
must  understand  the  meaning  of  structure,  what  lies 
behind  what  you  see  with  the  eye:   the  way  a  plant  is 


actually  formed,  the  way  it  grows,  what  its  movements  are, 
what  its  essential  qualities  of  structure  are,  rather  than 
just  the  fuzziness  that  the  eye  sees  on  the  surface.   It's 
to  understand  what  holds  up  this  tree,  which,  when  you 
look  at  it  with  an  unthinking  eye,  is  just  a  great  big 
mass  of  foliage  covering  most  of  the  structure,  covering 
most  of  the  limbs  and  the  trunk.   It's  the  realization 
that  it's  growing  out  of  the  earth,  supported  sturdily 
with  great  root  systems  that  go  down  like  the  tree  grows 
above.   Then,  as  this  thing  moves  up,  there's  a  particular 
kind  of  growth  movement.   Every  tree  family  has  a  different 
growth  movement;  every  plant  family  has  a  different  growth 
movement.   Every  animal,  every  person  has  certain  charac- 
teristics that  differ  from  each  other.   It's  to  understand 
the  essential  qualities  of  structure  that  I  think  should 
be  the  basis  with  which  you  approach  drawing.   Now,  that's 
both  imaginative  and  it  is  also  very  demanding.   It's  to 
be  able  to  grapple  with  not  only  the  third  dimension,  but 
the  two-dimensional  aspects.   It  demands  that  you  think 
less  about  making  a  drawing  and  more  about  what  constitutes 

the  world. 

If  one  teaches  drawing  this  way,  one  inevitably  is 
teaching  a  great  deal  about  aesthetics,  because  aesthetics 
are  based  upon  certainly  thousands  of  years  of  realization 
of  the  structure  of  life,  the  essential  things  that  we  can 
aesthetically  respond  to.   You  bend  a  man's  leg  backwards. 


make  the  knee  go  the  other  way,  and  there's  a  natural 
reaction  against  this  because  it's  obviously  a  broken  leg. 
It's  an  unhappy-looking  leg.   Now,  I  don't  mean  that  every- 
thing has  to  be  happy  and  everything  has  to  be  pretty,  but 
the  more  you  understand  about  structure,  the  more  you  are 
really  attuned  with  the  qualities  that  have  created  the 
aesthetic  understanding  of  mankind.   Drawing  is  approached 
this  way,  instead  of  reducing  life  to  a  perspective  treat- 
ment or  something  that  simulates  the  way  it  looks  to  the 
eye.   I'd  like  to  think  of  a  man,  if  he's  painting  a  valley 
and  a  mountain  that  moves  up  or  hills  that  move  up,  and 
they're  robust,  wonderful  forms,  I  like  to  think  of  it 
almost  as  a  man  that's  going  to  traverse  the  ground.   He's 
going  to  walk  right  into  the  thing.   He's  aware  of  whether 
the  land  tilts,  whether  it's  going  down  or  tilting  up,  or 
whether  it's  curved  over.   If  you  teach  structural  drawing, 
it  doesn't  take  the  student  very  long  to  grasp  how  impor- 
tant it  is  to  learn  certain  things  about  perspective,  just 
as  a  means.   But  if  you  attack  it  the  other  way,  and  say, 
"Now,  your  perspective  is  wrong;  therefore,  you've  got  to 
put  this  line  this  way  and  this  line  this  way,"  as  they 
did  in  the  old  academic  way,  what  you're  doing  is  just 
making  a  very  sad  victim  of  the  eye.   You're  not  in  any 
sense  teaching  the  mind  to  comprehend  what's  back,  behind, 
which  is  more  important  than  what  you  see.   It's  the  part 
you  don't  see  of  everything  that  makes  the  thing  total. 


and  a  sculptor  realizes  that  from  the  very  beginning. 

That's  why,  I  think,  most  sculptors  draw  better  than 
most  painters.   In  my  opinion,  I  think  that  the  most 
exciting  drawings  sometimes  are  made  by  sculptors  rather 
than  painters  because  they  do  comprehend  the  structural. 
Maybe  they're  more  exciting  to  me — maybe  it's  because  I 
like  that  kind  of  drawing — but  I  think  that  a  painter  like 
Michelangelo,  who  was  also  a  hell  of  a  sculptor,  really 
never  thought  of  the  world  reduced  to  a  two-dimensional 
view  from  the  eye.   The  vitality  and  power  of  Picasso  at 
his  best,  particularly  some  of  his  great  drawings  done  in 
the  Pink  and  Blue  periods,  when  he  could  take  a  fine  line 
and  draw  the  contour  of  a  clown  and  never  put  one  touch  of 
shading  in,  but  expressed  the  fullness,  the  fatness  in  the 
arm  and  the  flow  of  the  movement — this  is  something  that 
is  comprehended.   It's  understood  by  the  artist.   It  isn't 
seen  by  the  artist  with  his  eye;  it's  seen  with  his  head. 
It's  the  most  exciting  kind  of  drawing  to  me  when  whatever 
it  is  that  you're  interested  in,  you  put  the  full  life 
into  it  and  not  merely  the  reduction  of  it  to  what  your 
eye  sees.   So  that's  the  kind  of  drawing  that  I've  always 
been  interested  in  trying  to  teach. 

GOODWIN:   When  you  taught  drawing,  did  you  begin  immediately 
with  the  human  figure? 

SHEETS:   Most  of  my  classes  I  alternated  between  the  human 
figure  and  still  life,  because  sometimes  it's  easier  to 


break  right  into  a  life  class  that  you  might  teach  for  two 
weeks  and  set  up  a  still  life  for  a  week,  where  things 
didn't  move;  and  yet  they  could  come  to  grips  with  the 
problem  of  the  structure  of  every  form  of  it  and  which  way 
are  the  axes  tilted  and  so  forth.   Then  immediately  they 
see  that  more  clearly  with  the  figure.   Then  back  and 
forth,  they  see  the  vitality  of  the  figure  and  the  move- 
ments of  the  figure  that  they  have  to  animate  a  still 
life  with.   So  I  really  liked  the  idea,  and  then  I  used 
to  take  them  outdoors  a  great  deal.   I'd  get  them  to  pick 
out  any  weed,  and  maybe  the  weed  was  a  tiny  miniature 
thing,  an  inch  and  a  half  tall.   I'd  say,  "All  right, 
we'll  go  back  inside.   Now  you  draw  this  thing  four  feet 
high."   That's  when  you  came  to  grips  with  the  difference 
between  your  eye  and  your  head ,  or  your  mind  and  your 
understanding.   Whatever  it  is  you  think  with,  it's  more 
than  just  brain,  certainly.   It  has  to  do  with  your  heart. 
It  has  to  do  with  your  love  and  affection  for  life  itself. 
I'd  bring  in  birds.   I  loved  roosters  because  I  raised 
lots  of  fighting  cocks.   I'd  bring  these  roosters  in,  and 
we'd  put  them  in  a  cage.   I  loved  to  bring  in  all  sorts 
of  surprising  things,  because  anytime  the  student  is  more 
interested  in  the  subject,  they  put  something  more  into 
it.   I  think  that  just  going  to  the  same  old  life  class 
every  day  and  seeing  a  male  model  this  week  and  a  female 
model  next  week — and  even  though  I  always  like  to  see  the 


female  models — to  me  it's  what  you're  trying  to  do  in  the 
way  of  developing  the  perceptive  insight.   Not  the  kind  of 
drawings  they  make — the  drawings  will  come  inevitably  if 
they  have  the  perception.   All  that  you  can  do  for  a 
student  is  to  hope  to  entice  him  or  her  into  getting 
excited  about  comprehension.   If  they  understand  it,  they 
can  draw  it.   They  can  look  at  it  and  get  clever  as  hell 
tickling  up  kneecaps  and  breasts  and  anything  else  as  far 
as  that  goes,  but  it  doesn't  mean  anything.   It's  to 
comprehend  the  magic  of  the  full  form  that  I  think  is 

Out  of  the  years  of  having  taught  drawing,  it's  been 
exciting  to  me  to  see  how  certain  people,  certain  students 
along  the  way — not  due  to  me  but  due  because  they  had  it, 
certainly  because  it  was  in  them — once  they  grasped  this 
thing,  they  were  the  ones  that  just  moved  right  out  ahead 
into  space  and  ended  up  very  often  in  an  abstract  world  or 
some  other  world.   It  didn't  have  to  be  a  realistic  world 
in  a  representational  sense,  because  to  me  the  best 
abstract  art  is  basically  very  structural.   An  artist 
that  understands  structure,  understands  the  real  organism 
of  color  and  all  this  kind  of  thing,  is  the  guy  or  gal 
that  can  put  an  abstract  thing  together.   So  it's  not  a 
matter  of  just  teaching  little  disciplines  or  little 
skills.   It's  making  the  head  comprehend.   Of  course,  I 
apply  the  same  thing  to  painting  or  to  modeling  and 


sculpture  or  designing  a  building. 

GOODWIN:   What's  the  most  difficult  kind  of  problem  that 
you  would  present  to  students?   Would  it  be  a  group  of 

SHEETS:   Well,  that's  an  interesting  question,  because 
recently  in  my  teaching,  quite  recently  .... 
GOODWIN:   You're  not  doing  any  more  teaching? 
SHEETS:   Well,  I've  been  teaching  a  great  deal  the  last 
three  or  four  years.   I  take  at  least  one  group  a  year 
somewhere  on  a  workshop,  maybe  to  Japan  or  to  Tahiti  or 
to  Greece.   That's  been  partly  so  I  could  plan  a  year 
ahead,  having  agreed  or  contracted  myself  to  do  this  with 
the  people  that  put  on  these  workshops.   I've  had  to  say 
to  my  office  and  to  clients  that  I'm  not  going  to  be  here 
for  a  month.   That's  part  of  the  reason.   The  second  reason 
is,  I  guess  it's  probably  like  an  old  fire-engine  horse: 
when  the  bell  goes  off,  he  likes  to  go  to  a  fire.   I  love 
to  teach.   I  really  believe  that  people  who  are  on  the 
firing  line  should  do  it.   I  don't  think  it  should  be  left 
up  to  people  who  just  theorize  about  it,  or  who  may  have 
done  some  work  but  who  haven't  really  gone  out  and  really 
won  their  spurs.   I  think  students  need  people  who  will 
come  to  them,  without  any  question  admitting  they  know 
very  little,  but  who  are  going  to  tell  about  what  they 
think  really  is  important.   So  I  love  to  teach,  and  I 
think  last  year  I  taught  five  workshops. 


GOODWIN:   How  large  are  the  groups? 

SHEETS:   I  try  to  limit  them  to  twenty-two,  but  sometimes 
they  crawl  up  to  thirty-five  or  thirty-eight — not  by  my 
choice,  but  because  it  was  hard  to  eliminate  certain  ones. 
But  recently,  and  this  is  a  sad  commentary  when  you  think 
of  fifty  years  of  teaching,  I  think  I've  not  only  done  the 
best  teaching,  but  I  think  I  have  learned  much  more  how  to 
present  the  kind  of  problem  that  challenges  both  their 
intellectual  capacity  and  their  emotional  insight.   By 
literally  manufacturing  the  kind  of  problem  that  stirs 
the  hell  out  of  them,  I've  gotten  results  I've  never 
dreamed  of  before,  both  in  color,  design,  and  in  the 
realization  of  how  important  drawing  is.   I  constantly  say 
to  students,  "You  must  carry  a  book  with  you  all  the  time, 
and  unless  you  make  one  drawing  a  day--not  for  the  sake  of 
a  drawing,  but  to  learn  something  about  something  you  didn't 
know  about  (there  isn't  a  house,  there  isn't  a  place  in  the 
world  that  doesn't  have  something  that  you  ought  to  inves- 
tigate)— you  aren't  being  true  to  yourself." 

Working  this  last  summer  [1976] ,  I  had  about  fifty 
artists  up  at  Asilomar  at  Jade  Fong ' s  workshop.   Some  of 
them  were  extremely  talented  and  extremely  advanced  in 
their  painting  techniques  and  skills,  particularly  in 
watercolor,  but  I  found,  like  most  such  groups,  they're 
abominably  weak  in  the  structural  sense.   They  paint  water- 
colors  that  not  only  win  big  national  prizes,  and  they  get 


in  all  the  shows,  but  if  you  have  the  knowledge  to  know 
what  should  be  there  in  addition  to  what  is  there — in 
other  words,  if  you  really  know  what  structure  means  and 
you  look  at  this  thing  and  you  say,  "Well,  they  have  a 
marvelous  taste.   They  have  a  wonderful  sense  of  the 
aesthetic  beauty  of  texture  and  color  and  movement  and 
all  of  that."   But  to  anyone  that  knows,  it's  a  dead 
giveaway  if  the  other  thing  doesn't  exist.   It  could  be 
an  abstraction;  I'm  not  talking  about  representation 
versus  abstraction.   You  know  whether  it  is  or  it  isn't 
there.   I  found  in  this  last  summer's  work  particularly 
that  I  got  these  people  so  excited  about  really  trying 
to  go  back  into  structure — in  fact,  in  two  weeks  of  solid 
work  up  there,  eight  hours  a  day,  it  was  astounding  to  see 
what  they  did  within  their  own  painting  and  the  excitement 
that  they  felt  having  made  this  development.   This  is  where 
some  of  the  painters  have  been  working  twenty,  twenty-five 

GOODWIN:   What  were  the  problems  that  you  assigned? 
SHEETS:   Well,  I  gave  them  some  very  strong  problems  in 
color  relationships  and  shape  relationships,  but  then  made 
them  go  out  and  make  drawings  that  were  very  hard-boiled 
in  terms  of  subject  matter.   They  came  back  and  applied 
those  drawings  right  on  top  of  just  some  exciting  color 
and  shape  relationships.   Then  they  begin  to  see  how  they 
work  the  structural  side  right  on  top  of  those  tonalities 


that  were  already  established.   It's  so  hard  to  take  them 
out  and  say,  "Now,  no  color  ever  repeats  itself;  no  shape 
ever  repeats  itself.   You  can  do  that,  and  a  real  artist 
eventually  can  do  it."   But  you  can  show  them  that  a 
painting  must  have  a  color  chord  or  it  isn't  going  to  be 
worth  a  damn.   I  don't  care  how  you  paint  it  or  who  painted 
it  or  when  it  was  painted,  a  painting  without  it  loses.   It 
doesn't  last.   It  disappears  in  time.   But  a  picture  can  be 
very  modest  if  it  has  this  magic  of  a  special  color  chord 
and  a  value  relationship  and  design  sense  that  will  go  on. 
So  they  treat  this  quite  abstractly  first,  really  organizing 
some  shapes  and  some  color,  and  I  gave  them  some  very 
deliberately  tough  restrictions.   Then  they  would  go  out 
with  no  thought  of  what  they'd  already  done.   Sometimes 
I'd  have  them  do  it  the  other  way  around:   I'd  have  them 
make  a  drawing  without  knowing  where  they  were  going  to  go, 
and  then  come  back  and  make  this  thing.   I  then  said,  "All 
right,  now  take  that  drawing  and  just  lay  it  down,  the 
basic  shapes,  right  on  top  of  this  thing.   Now  let's  see 
what  happens  when  you  apply  these  forms,  not  letting  for 
one  moment  this  color  or  this  tonal  chord  get  mixed  up. 
Let's  see  if  you  can  keep  the  combination  of  the  two."   I 
think  I  saw  the  most  astounding  results,  and  it  was  a  very 
thrilling  thing.   It  has  been  a  big  thing  in  several  of 
their  lives  because  I've  seen  several  of  them  many  times 
since . 


They  brought  several  things  to  show  me  they're  so  excited 
about  what's  happened  in  their  thinking,  a  whole  new  way 
of  going.   Not  that  that  has  become  a  style — I  don't  want 
you  to  think  that — but  as  a  way  of  reconciling  the  spirit 
and  the  head.   I  feel  that  in  painting,  these  things  do 
have  to  be  reconciled. 

I  think  of  a  painter  as  being  a  series  of  many  parts, 
and  certainly  the  skill  of  a  language  is  a  prerequisite. 
You  shouldn't  get  a  gold  medal  for  knowing  how  to  do  some- 
thing.  The  technical  skills  are  very  tough  and  very 
disciplined:   drawing,  and  control  of  color,  and  shapes, 
and  all  these  kind  of  things.   These  are  things  you  should 
learn,  in  the  hard-boiled  sense,  intellectually,  I  think. 
Your  creative  side  is  not  in  your  skill;  it's  in  your 
quality  of  mind.   It's  the  way  you  respond  to  life  itself. 
It's  the  depth  with  which  you  see  and  feel  everything 
around  you  that  is  creative.   If  you  have  the  skills, 
then  you  have  the  power  to  begin  to  get  at  this  thing 
which  is  within  you  that  needs  to  be  focused.   Then,  of 
course,  you  have  the  third  thing,  and  that  is  the  purpose. 
If  it's  to  be  strictly  a  personal  painting  or  a  personal 
piece  of  sculpture,  that's  one  thing,  but  if  it's  to  be 
used  in  a  certain  way,  that's  something  else.   These  are 
extracurricular  problems  as  you  go  along. 

But  I  feel  so  strongly  that  every  art  is  so  essential 
to  mankind,  because  these  are  the  only  means  which  we  have 


to  get  at  certain  parts  of  the  human  understanding,  to 
communicate  areas  that  are  otherwise  uncommunicable. 
There's  no  substitute  for  music  or  for  painting  or  for 
sculpture  or  for  dance  or  for  literature  or  for  poetry. 
These  are  such  incredibly  important  languages  that  have 
persisted  through  thousands  of  years  and  through  constant 
changing  styles  and  instruments  and  techniques  and  mater- 
ials.  Never  has  there  been  a  stoppage  of  change,  but  this 
desire  goes  on  to  be  able  to  say  something  that  is  other- 
wise uncommunicable. 

Now,  if  this  is  true,  then  I  think  an  artist  has  the 
dual  problem  of  learning  the  skill  with  which  to  do  it, 
hopefully  with  something  there  that's  to  be  expressed. 
You  can  turn  it  right  around.   You  can  say,  "With  all  the 
skill  in  the  world,  if  there's  nothing  there,  it's  sad." 
But  it's  equally  or  even  more  tragic  if  you  have  a  lot  to 
say,  and  you  won't  take  time  to  learn  the  skill,  which  is 
typical  of  today's  educational  system — to  never  really 
learn  the  skills  to  free  what  is  within  there.   Now,  that 
is  real  sadness.   This  I  meet  daily--marvelous,  sensitive, 
interesting  young  people,  particularly,  who  obviously  have 
an  aesthetic  sense  that's  way  out  beyond  what  we  had  when 
I  grew  up.   They've  been  exposed  in  so  many  more  wonder- 
ful ways  to  so  much  more  than  we  ever  had  in  the  way  of 
exposure.   I  think  there  are  so  many  things  in  our  lives 
that,  in  spite  of  the  confusion,  has  brought  about  a 


sense  of  a  response  to  the  aesthetic.   But  very  often  they 
get  into  these  kinds  of  classes  taught  by,  to  me,  people 
who  shouldn't  be  teaching,  who  bravo  their  spirit  and  bravo 
their  imagination,  but  say,  "Stay  away  from  tough  disci- 
plines because  that's  going  to  inhibit  you."   That  is 
baloney.   The  result  is,  you've  got  a  lot  of  young  people 
today  coming  out  with  degrees  who  have  the  best  of  inten- 
tions but  have  no  ability  to  really  become  useful  to 
themselves  or  to  anybody  else.   A  large  number  of  people 
who  would  like  to  work,  just  to  get  a  job,  show  you  a 
portfolio.   I  must  say  that  it  doesn't  make  much  difference 
whether  they  study  in  the  East  or  the  West  or  the  Middle 
West;  the  portfolios  mostly  look  alike.   It's  a  complex  of 
odd  mixtures  of  all  the  different  kinds  of  art  that  are 
popular  today  in  teaching.   Yet  when  it  comes  right  down 
to  some  simple  basic  things  like,  "Do  you  know  how  to 
draw?"  no,  they're  not  interested  in  that.   They  say,  "Oh, 
that's  a  terrible  thing."   I  ask,  "Can  you  really  paint?" 
"Well,  this  is  my  idea  of  painting,"  and  they've  got  a  few 
little  collages  stuck  together  ^^nd  that  sort  of  thing. 
That's  sad,  because  if  they  had  feeling,  they  should  have 
been  liberated  by  having  a  language  that  gave  them  power. 
GOODWIN:   What  kinds  of  materials  do  you  expose  your 
students  to? 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  like  to  expose  them  to  as  many  as  possible. 
I  think  a  painter  should  do  sculpture.   I  think  he  should 


work  in  ceramics.   I  think  he  should  take  some  architecture. 
I  love  to  see  them  work  in  metal  and  wood.   I  don't  think  a 
good  designer  or  a  good  artist  today  can  escape  the  need  to 
work  in  these  materials.   He  can't  do  it  all  at  once,  but 
in  certainly  four  or  five  years  in  graduate  school ,  they 
should  have  had  all  these  experiences.   The  problem  is  the 
guy  says,  "I  want  to  be  a  painter.   I  don't  want  to  do 
sculpture."   Or  the  guy  says,  "I'm  a  sculptor;  I  don't 
want  to  paint.   I  don't  want  to  draw.   I  want  to  do  this. 
I'm  going  to  be  a  ceramist."   So  they  go  in  and  they  stir 
clay  around,  and  they  mix  glazes,  and  they  put  a  little 
bit  of  Japanese  decoration  on  it,  and  say,  "This  is  ceramic." 
If  that  potter  was  taking  sculpture  from  a  tough  guy  who 
really  knew  the  meaning  of  monumental ity,  who  knew  the 
meaning  of  imprisoning  within  that  piece  of  clay  the  most 
exciting  life  quality,  then  the  pot  would  be  different. 


NOVEMBER  30,  197  6 

GOODWIN:   You  were  saying,  Mr.  Sheets,  how  you  would 
encourage  a  student  not  to  specialize  in  either  painting 
or  sculpture  or  ceramics,  but  to  become  familiar  with  all 
those  fields. 

SHEETS:   Well,  maybe  I  should  even  clarify  what  I  said, 
because  I  think  I  misstated  it.   I  think  an  artist  should 
use  whatever  basic  medium  or  media — one,  two  or  three — 
that  they  would  like  to  major  in,  but  I  think  that  the 
broader  their  base  of  experience,  the  better  artists 
they're  going  to  be  in  whatever  chosen  medium  they  finally 
end  up  with.   I  think  it's  fine.   I'd  rather  have  a  young 
student  say  to  me,  "I'm  going  to  be  a  sculptor,  and  I  don't 
give  a  damn  what  happens — that's  what  I'm  going  to  do." 
I'd  love  that.   I  think  at  the  same  time  if  you  can  get 
him  or  her  to  understand  that  the  more  they  really  get 
into  some  basic  drawing,  get  into  some  basic  design,  color, 
painting,  that  it  will  enable  them  enormously  to  be  broader- 
based  people  in  sculpture.   Of  course,  the  same  thing  would 
reverse,  any  way  you'd  want  to  look  at  it. 

The  reason  I  labored  that  point  about  materials, 
working  in  a  variety  of  materials,  was  this:   I'm 
prophesying  now,  but  I'm  guessing  that  in  the  next  twenty 
years  the  artist — the  painter,  the  sculptor,  the  designer — 


is  going  to  be  doing  much  more  in  connection  with  our 
daily  lives  than  we've  done  in  the  last  forty  or  fifty 
years.   I  think  it's  going  to  be  absolutely  requisite. 
I  think  it's  inevitable.   There  will  always  be  the  painter 
who  doesn't  become  involved  in  these  things,  but  I  think 
that  the  need  of  society  is  going  to  be  so  great  and  the 
demand  so  great,  as  I  see  it  and  have  felt  it  for  a  long 
time  personally,  that  artists  will  find  incredible  outlets 
and  opportunities  as  artists.   If  they  are  able  to  deal 
with  the  problems  of  today.   Now,  in  order  to  design,  you 
have  to  understand  what  you  can  do  with  glass,  what  you 
can  do  with  metal,  what  you  can  do  with  wood,  what  you 
can  do  with  ceramic,  what  you  can  do  with  the  new  plastics. 
These  are  all  materials  that  unless  you  have  some  feeling 
for  their  capabilities,  it's  not  very  possible  to  design 
intelligently.   Sure,  you  can  screw  around  and  make  some 
arty-looking  attempts,  but  to  really  have  the  excitement, 
the  more  the  artist  knows,  the  better.   That's  what  I  meant 
by  exposure  to  materials  as  well  as  working  in  a  variety  of 
media . 

But  just  to  finish  that  point,  I  believe  that  the  next 
twenty,  thirty,  forty  years — I  really  believe  this — will  be 
the  most  exciting  years  of  opportunity  for  the  artist. 
People  who  worry  about  the  artist  and  worry  about  govern- 
ment federal  projects  and  all  that  kind  of  stuff  bore  the 
hell  out  of  me  because  there  isn't  a  thing  in  our  society 


that  doesn't  need  to  be  redesigned,  rethought,  clarified, 
enhanced,  made  more  beautiful  for  a  reason  to  live.   It's 
the  artists  that  certainly  should  have  the  responsibility 
of  becoming  involved  with  this.   Our  environment,  we're 
talking  about.   We  talk  about  it  strictly  on  the  basis  of 
preserving  wildlife  and  the  fauna  and  the  land  itself. 
There  isn't  anything  about  our  country  that  doesn't  need 
to  be  made  more  aesthetically  acceptable.   An  artist  can't 
afford  to  live  in  an  ivory  tower  alone,  only  the  great 
ones,  and  the  great  ones  will  always  live  in  ivory  towers. 
And  I'd  fight  like  a  son  of  a  bitch  to  help  them  have  that 
tower,  but  I  don't  think  that  is  where  you're  going  to 
absorb  these  thousands  of  young,  talented  people  who  have 
a  great  deal  of  ability  but  who  perhaps  do  not  have  that 
special  capacity  of  genius,  who  need  to  apply  themselves 
to  the  incredible,  wonderful  opportunities  as  creative, 
imaginative  people  with  conviction,  not  merely  as  commer- 
cial artists,  not  merely  as  industrial  designers  who  learn 
a  little,  narrow  trade.   I  think  an  industrial  designer 
should  have  the  broadest-gauged  background  in  fine  arts 
(only  I  hate  to  use  the  words  fine  arts ,  but  what  is  so 
often  referred  to  as  fine  arts,  because  this  is  what  so 
much  of  industrial  design  lacks) .   I  think  that  the  broader 
the  base,  the  higher  the  aspiration,  the  more  exciting  the 
opportunities  will  become. 

Now,  I  say  this  not  just  because  I'm  trying  to  be 


Pollyanna,  but  because  I  have  spent  a  tremendous  amount 
of  my  life  with  tough  business  people,  tough  industrial 
people,  bankers,  all  kinds  of  people,  politicians.   I 
love  this.   It's  a  great  game  with  me.   I  don't  play  it 
politically,  and  I  don't  play  it  to  be  a  big  wheel.   I 
play  it  because  these  are  the  people  that  I  find  extremely 
hungry,  deeply  hungry,  amazingly  susceptible  to  a  whole 
new  way  of  looking  at  life.   If  you  can  go  to  them  with 
ideas  that  they  can  comprehend — in  other  words,  not  just 
a  bunch  of  jargon  that's  mixed  up  for  the  art  critic,  the 
kind  of  things  that  William  Wilson  [of  the  L.A.  Times] 
writes  (which  to  me  is  gobbledygook :   it  has  nothing  to 
do  with  education  of  the  public;  it  has  nothing  to  do 
with  anything  important  in  art  as  criticism) — but  if  you 
go  to  people  with  language  that  they  can  understand ,  and 
you  build  the  bridge  between  your  background  in  so-called 
sensitivity  and  experience  in  the  aesthetics,  and  you 
build  a  bridge  so  that  you  enable  them  to  see  into  this 
world,  I  have  found  that  instead  of  being  antagonistic  or 
feeling  that  it's  ladylike  or  not  important,  they're 
hungry.   They  grab;  they  reach;  they  become  terribly 
involved.   It  changes  their  life. 

The  greatest  pleasure,  I  think,  in  my  life  has  been 
to  know  that  out  of  every  bank  I've  designed  and  almost 
every  job  I've  ever  had  that  had  to  do  with  tough,  hard- 
boiled  industry,  I've  not  only  made  some  of  the  greatest 


friends  I've  ever  had  in  my  life,  but  I  have  helped  people 
see  a  totally  new  way  of  existence.   It  isn't  because  I'm 
out  to  preach  or  to  sell.   They  are  susceptible  because 
they  need  it;  they're  hungry.   They  don't  know  what  they're 
hungry  for,  but  they're  hungry.   That's  why  I  think  if  we 
could  educate  artists  to  be  total  people  and  not  just 
narrow-tracked  people  with  a  small  view  of  the  potential 
of  life  or  the  potential  of  an  artist,  that  this  thing  will 
come  about.   And  I  think  it  will  inevitably  come  about, 
because  we're  drying  up  in  this  other  thing.   It's  going 
down  the  drain. 
GOODWIN:   It's  a  dead  end. 

SHEETS:   It's  an  absolutely  dead  end.   When  you  have  big 
universities  and  big  art  schools  and  departments  in  col- 
leges that  are  without  direction,  without  objective,  with- 
out philosophy,  it  is  a  dead  end.   There  has  to  be  a 
meaning,  and  the  meaning  must  be  connected  with  real 
people  and  real  situations  and  not  the  snobbish  stupidity 
of  our  average  art  critic  of  today. 
GOODWIN:   That's  a  pretty  profound  thought. 
SHEETS:   I  may  be  getting  way  off  the  beam  here,  but  I 
feel  it  so  deeply  because  I  love,  more  than  anything  else, 
to  see  things  happen.   To  me  nothing  is  as  thrilling  as 
seeing  a  painting  or  a  piece  of  sculpture  or  a  building 
or  a  beautiful  bowl  or  some  weaving  that  I  can  say 
unhesitating,  "I  wish  to  God  I  had  done  that."   Nothing 


thrills  me  as  much  as  this.   If  you're  an  artist,  I  think 
this  is  the  only  philosophy  in  art  that  amounts  to  any- 
thing.  Above  all,  nothing  excites  me  as  much  as  having 
a  young  person  develop  into  a  total  person  and  become  a 
real  expression  of  the  thoughts  that  we're  talking  about. 
I've  seen  it  so  many  times  in  the  last  thirty  years  par- 
ticularly, out  of  the  fifty  years  of  teaching:   the  last 
thirty  years  I've  seen  so  many  young  people  that  are 
doing  exciting  things  all  over  the  world. 
GOODWIN:   Has  your  philosophy  of  art  education  changed 
dramatically  over  the  years? 

SHEETS:   No,  I  don't  think  it  has.   I  think  it's  clarified, 
so  that  I  can  say  it  now  in  a  way  that  I  couldn't  have  said 
it  thirty  years  ago.   Certainly  thirty  years  ago  I  felt  it, 
but  I  was  a  hell  of  an  inarticulate  guy  for  a  hell  of  a 
long  time.   When  I  went  to  Scripps,  I  was  scared  to  death 
of  what  they  called  a  lecture.   Now,  I  didn't  mind  teaching 
in  a  class--but  the  minute  I  had  to  get  up  and  give  an  art 
history  lecture  or  in  the  humanities  particularly  (which  I 
want  to  talk  about  a  great  deal  when  we  talk  about  Scripps) , 
I  was  absolutely  scared,  ossified.   I  think  it  was  in  the 
third  month,  the  president  of  the  college  came  to  me  and 
said,  "We're  going  to  have  a  series  of  three  lectures. 
You're  going  to  give  the  first  one,  the  architect  who 
designed  the  building  is  going  to  give  the  second  one, 
and  our  professor  of  architecture  is  going  to  give  the 


third  one.   We're  going  to  invite  200  distinguished  guests 
for  dinner  and  a  series  of  three  art  lectures,  and  you're 
first."   Well,  I  came  as  near  expiring  as  I  have  ever.   I 
went  away  for  a  week  in  the  mountains,  and  I  died  twenty 
times  every  night  waking  up  in  a  cold  sweat  abour  this 
thing.   If  it  hadn't  been  for  my  wife,  who  was  far  better 
educated  in  English  that  I  was,  I  would  have  really  died. 
I  had  some  ideas,  but  she  took  some  of  the  stuttering  out 
in  helping  me  prepare  this  thing.   It  was  a  ghastly  exper- 
ience, but  it  was  one  of  the  best  experiences  I  ever  had 
because  it  forced  me  to  do  things  I  never  would  have  done 
if  I  had  not  gone  to  Scripps. 

GOODWIN:   We  will  talk  about  Scripps  in  some  depth.   Let's 
speak  a  little  while  longer  about  Chouinard.   Did  the  basic 
atmosphere  of  the  school  change,  say,  in  the  middle  thirties, 
as  opposed  to  the  atmosphere  you  experienced  as  a  student? 
SHEETS:   No,  I  think  that  Chouinard  was  extremely  wonderful 
in  the  years  from  1925,  when  I  was  there,  until,  really, 
the  war  started.   I  think  of  Mrs.  Chouinard ' s  original 
dedication,  along  with  Chamberlain  and  some  of  the  people 
that  worked  with  her  in  the  start  of  that  school:   I  think 
they  were  so  determined  to  build  a  good  school.   And  when 
you  think  of  it  without  any  support  except  the  income  from 
tuition--there  was  no  support  at  all. 
GOODWIN:   How  much  was  tuition,  by  the  way? 
SHEETS:   Oh,  my  goodness.   I  think  my  first  year,  I  believe 


it  was  $165.   There  were  not  over  eighty  students  in  the 
school,  and  that  paid  the  faculty  and  the  rent.   There 
wasn't  any  money  left  over.   In  fact,  I  think  I  told  you 
I  did  lots  of  odd  jobs  and  things  to  even  help  pay  for  my 
tuition.   So  I  guess  I  was  about  one  of  three  or  four 
people  wlio  were-  given  any  help  financially.   But  the  thing 
that  just  amazed  me  during  all  those  years--and  we  had 
some  marvelous  teachers  in  the  thirties  .... 
GOODWIN:   Who  were  some  of  those  people? 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  think  of  Phil  Dike  and  Donald  Graham  and 
Jepson,  and  many  of  the  kids  that  were  students  with  me 
became  very,  very  top  teachers  by  the  middle  thirties,  and 
they  went  on  into  the  forties.   Phil  Dike  had  become  the 
head  of  all  color  for  Disney.   He  was  quite  independent 
financially.   It  was  a  great  job.   He  did  a  fantastic  job 
at  Disney  Studios.   But  he  loved  that  school  so  much  that 
he  came  down  and  taught.   In  fact,  Disney  was  so  dependent 
upon  Chouinard,  all  of  his  first  animators  were  students 
of  ours  at  Chouinard.   When  Disney  really  got  going,  he 
joined  with  Chouinard  in  supporting  drawing  classes,  to 
teach  people  not  just  animation,  but  to  give  them  the  back- 
ground.  There  was  a  wonderful  relationship  in  the  early 
days  between  Disney  and  Chouinard.   We  were  all  very 
close  friends.   Then  [Rico]  Lebrun  taught  there.   I 
think  Lebrun  was  there  for  at  least  three  years  before 
the  war.   I  wish  I  could  put  it  together — maybe  later. 


some  of  the  other  names — but  there  were  some  remarkable 
people  teaching  there  in  those  days.   Of  course,  they  also 
had  marvelous  classes  in  fashion  and  costume  design.   Edith 
Head  was  teaching,  even,  in  those  days.   She  taught  right 
up  until  Chouinard  literally  closed  its  doors  and  became 
Cal  Arts.   Edith  Head  was  a  very  faithful  disciple.   There 
were  so  many  people  that  really  worshipped  what  Chouinard 
did  for  them,  as  it  did  for  each  of  us  as  individuals.   It 
had  a  dedication,  and  it  never  did  get  so  darn  big,  until 
the  war  came — I  mean  until  after  the  war  when  the  GIs  came 
back.   Then  it  became  a  factory,  like  Otis  and  big  univer- 
sities and  so  many  of  them  did.   They  suddenly  jiomped  up 
to  five,  six,  seven  hundred  people,  and  they  had  other 
buildings  outlying  and  that  kind  of  thing.   I  taught  there 
until  '39,  night  classes  after  '35,  I  think  it  was.   I 
taught  night  classes  until  I  became  so  involved  with  the 
air  schools  for  the  Air  Force. 

But  in  looking  back,  I  remember  that  you  moved  into 
a  tremendously  exciting  atmosphere  when  you  walked  into 
the  school.   The  students  were  ell  business.   There  was 
no  monkey  business.   Of  course,  they  were  far  better 
dressed  than  they  are  today,  and  they  came  in  with  a 
great  excitement.   [phone  rings;  tape  recorder  turned  off] 

I  think  one  of  the  main  reasons  that  Chouinard  was 
strong  during  those  years  is  that  Mrs.  Chouinard  never 
once  backed  away  from  the  demand  of  a  tremendous  amount 


of  drawing,  painting,  and  design,  no  matter  what  the  students 
were  going  to  do.   Now,  Chouinard  never  did  push  sculpture 
as  hard  as  I  think  they  should  have.   In  fact,  I  think  they 
had  sculpture  classes  that  would  come  and  go.   I  was  sorry 
that  that  wasn't  made  an  absolutely  adamant  part  to  the 
same  degree.   I  didn't  feel  it  at  the  time,  but  later  on, 
looking  back,  I  would  say  that  if  they  had  a  weakness,  that 
was  it.   But  a  student  knew  that  they  had  to  go  into  that 
drawing  class,  and  if  they  didn't  draw  that  figure,  and 
learn  to  draw  it  well  enough  to  go  into  the  second  year, 
then  they  were  going  to  be  out  of  the  school.   They  were 
as  tough  as  any  college  I've  ever  seen.   Not  by  the  ordinary 
grade  thing.   We  looked  over  portfolios  twice  a  semester, 
and  I  remember  those  long  sessions  of  the  drawing  teachers 
getting  together.   I  was  both  drawing  and  painting,  so  I'd 
meet  for  sometimes  two  days  with  the  drawing  group,  and 
we'd  look  over  every  portfolio.   We  would  give  warnings 
or  just  say,  "Out." 

GOODWIN:   Some  students  were  asked  to  leave? 
SHEETS:   Oh,  absolutely.   Or  were  given  a  chance  to  come 
back  and  maybe  just  take  drawing  before  they  would  be 
allowed  to  go  on  with  their  course.   Because  the  design 
students,  particularly — those  who  wanted  to  go  into 
costume  and  then  to  just  pure  design,  fabric  and  that 
kind  of  thing — they  didn't  see  the  point.   But  the  point 
was  they  needed  it  more  than  anybody.   It's  so  hard  for 


students  who  haven't  had  the  experience  to  know  how 
important  it  is ,  but  that  was  the  thing  that  grand  old 
woman  never  once  backed  down  on.   Oh,  she  was  a  terror. 
She  was  the  sweetest,  most  wonderful  person,  if  everybody 
behaved.   But  if  they  didn't,  God,  boy,  look  out.   She  was 
tough.   Oh,  I  loved  her  with  a  passion.   Her  whole  staff 
reflected  that.   It  had  a  great  spirit,  and  they  really 
believed  in  these  things. 

GOODWIN:   How  long  did  she  stay  with  the  school? 
SHEETS:   Well,  it  was  well  into  the  forties,  late  forties, 
early  fifties,  I  think.   When  I  became  director  of  Otis,  I 
really  felt  terrible  about  this  because  I  made  her  very 
unhappy.   I  tried  to  explain  it  to  her,  but  I  don't  think 
she  ever  really  did  understand  it.   Then  I  think  it  was 
about  1951  or  -2  that  she  had  a  semistroke.   She  had  to 
leave  the  school,  and  she  never  was  back  after  that, 
although  they  paid  great  respect  to  her,  and  it  was  Disney 
money  that  kept  the  school  going  entirely.   They  had  no 
other  backing  at  all.   I  know  that  Disney  put  in  over  two 
or  three  hundred  thousand  a  year  for  something  like  seven 
or  eight  years  until  the  school  was  stopped.   He  did  that 
in  gratitude  for  what  Chouinard  had  meant  to  him  and  the 
fact  that  he  thought  we  needed  that  kind  of  an  art  school. 
That's  why  he  wanted  to  build  this  new,  great  Disney  thing 
[Cal  Arts] ,  which  has  never  done  any  of  the  things  that  he 
wanted  it  to  do.   That's  another  episode  in  my  life. 


GOODWIN:   Right,  we'll  get  to  that. 
SHEETS:   Yeah,  I  know. 
GOODWIN:   Let's  talk  about  Scripps. 

SHEETS:   Well,  Scripps  was  a  great,  new,  wide  adventure 
into  the  far  beyond  for  me,  never  having  been  to  college — 
as  they  say,  being  one  of  the  unwashed.   I  first  had  an 
exhibit  at  Scripps  a  year  before  I  went  to  Scripps,  with 
no  thought  at  the  time  when  I  had  this  exhibit  that  I 
would  ever  be  connected  with  Scripps.   I  had  an  exhibition 
of  paintings,  and  then  the  head  of  the  department,  a  won- 
derful fellow  by  the  name  of  Morgan  Padelford,  called  me 
and  said  that  the  president  of  the  college  wanted  to  talk 
to  me  about  doing  a  mural  at  Scripps.   I  went  out,  had 
lunch  with  Morgan  and  the  president  and  two  or  three  of 
the  trustees,  and  they  showed  me  this  beautiful  wall  in 
a  dining  room.   At  that  time,  I  think  they  had  two  dining 
rooms  for  four  dormitories.   It  was  a  beautiful  end  wall, 
and  they  had  several  ideas.   I  was  very  excited  about  it. 
We  talked  about  it  at  length,  oh,  maybe  over  a  period  of 
about  three  or  four  months.   We  settled  on  the  price,  and 
we  settled  on  the  material  and  all  the  rest  of  it.   As  I 
was  very  involved  for  the  moment,  I  said,  "Well,  I  can 
start  it  in  about  three  or  four  months  and  make  the  design." 
It  was  the  middle  of  that  period  of  three  or  four  months 
that  the  president  called  me  one  day  and  asked  me  if  I 
would  consider  teaching  for  one  year  at  Scripps  while 


Morgan  Padelford  went  on  a  honeymoon  to  Europe.   I  didn't 
know  enough  about  it  to  be  scared  of  the  idea  of  teaching 
at  college,  because,  you  know,  I  love  teaching,  and  I 
enjoyed  young  people.   I  was  only  twenty-three  and  a  half 
or  something  like  that — I  don't  remember  exactly  what  it 
was,  twenty-four  maybe.   My  wife  and  I  went  out  and  had 
dinner  with  the  president  and  his  wife  and  some  of  the 
board,  and  they  invited  me  to  become  an  assistant  professor 
for  one  year. 

Well,  we  went  out,  and  the  first  thing  that  we  ran 
into  we  couldn't  find  a  house.   Claremont  was  such  a  tiny 
little  place,  which  just  had  never  grown  over  above  its 
needs,  and  there  simply  wasn't  a  house.   So  we  decided  to 
build  a  house,  though  it  was  the  Depression.   We  traded  a 
lot  that  my  wife's  mother  gave  us  for  a  lot  in  Claremont, 
even.   The  lot  was  in  Los  Angeles,  supposedly  a  more 
valuable  lot,  but  it  turned  out  eventually  it  wasn't 
because  it  became  part  of  the  growing  black  community, 
and  this  one  turned  out  to  be  one  of  the  best  lots  in 
Claremont.   You  can't  believe  this,  but  for  $3,300  I  built 
a  fantastic  house.   These  are  things  that  you  can't  compre- 
hend.  I  borrowed  all  $3,300  from  a  savings  and  loan  on  the 
strength  of  the  $1,000  equity  on  the  lot,  which  in  those 
days  was  a  lot  of  money,  they  thought.   We  built  a  beautiful 
house,  with  no  thought  that  we  were  going  to  be  there  more 
than  one  year,  but  that  we  could  sell  it  and  it  was  a 


lovely  house.   A  friend  of  mine  and  I  designed  it  and 
built  it. 

GOODWIN:   Right  near  the  campus? 

SHEETS:   Oh,  it's  about  six  blocks  from  the  campus,  but 
just  a  knockout.   To  give  you  some  idea  about  that  house, 
later  I  added  a  wing  underneath  the  studio.   In  that  house 
there  were  two  bedrooms,  two  baths,  kitchen,  dining  room, 
a  huge  living  room,  and  a  studio  that  was  as  big  as  the 
living  room  separate  from  the  house,  which  were  24  x  14 
each.   Later,  when  we  had  more  children,  I  pushed  the 
studio  up  in  the  air  and  built  a  wing  right  underneath  it 
of  three  more  bedrooms  and  two  baths.   That  cost  another, 
about  $2,900.   The  last  time  that  house  sold,  it  sold  for 
$69,000.   The  same  house.   It  had  a  two-car  garage.   That 
shows  you  what  inflation  is  like. 

Well,  anyway,  I  went  to  Scripps,  and  it  was  the  most 
exciting  thing  in  so  many  ways,  except  I  had  no  good  place 
to  teach.   I  was  working  in  regular  classrooms;  they  didn't 
have  an  art  room  of  any  kind.   Light  was  coming  from  all 
directions,  and  there  were  too  many  students.   I  had  some 
marvelous  young  men  from  Pomona  who  came  up,  Milfred 
Zornes  and  Tom  Craig,  guys  that  became  very  good  painters, 
were  in  my  first  class  out  there,  and  there  were  lots  of 
girls  from  Scripps  and  Pomona  and  every  place  else.   Well, 
I  managed  to  get  through  that  year,  and  before  the  year  - 
was  out  they  asked  me  to  stay  on.   They  said  that  they 


needed  both  Morgan  and  they  needed  me,  as  well  as  the  man 
who  was  teaching  architecture  and  doing  most  of  the  art 
history  lectures. 

Well,  a  very  interesting  thing  happened,  and  it 
changed  my  life.   In  the  middle  of  or  during  the  first 
semester,  I  kept  hearing  the  name  Hartley  Alexander.   This 
name  was  always  spoken  with  such  awe  and  such  sort  of 
reverence  by  every  member  of  the  faculty  and  the  students. 
I  found  out  by  just  listening  long  enough  that  he  was  a 
professor  of  philosophy  and  that  he  was  on  leave.   He  was 
back  at  the  Radio  [City  Music  Hall],  New  York,  laying  out 
all  of  the  art  for  Radio  City,  choosing  the  artists,  the 
sculptors,  the  painters,  the  mosaicists,  and  so  forth. 
Instinctively,  being  very  young  and  very  dumb,  I  developed 
a  kind  of — and  it  sounds  very  stupid — a  dislike  for  a  man 
that  I  didn't  know.   Well,  what  the  hell  is  a  philosopher 
doing  back  in  New  York,  laying  out  art,  and  choosing  art- 
ists?  What's  he  doing  this  kind  of  thing  for?   Well,  he 
was  a  great  friend  of  Bertram  Goodhew,  the  designer  of  the 
Radio  City  Music  Hall,  and  he  also  had  worked  with  him  on 
the  Nebraska  state  capitol,  which  is  quite  famous  for  what 
they  did  in  that  same  respect.   Anyway,  I  instinctively 
thought  he  was  getting  way  over  into  my  kind  of  territory, 
and  what  the  hell  was  he  doing  that  for?   Yet  I  was  so 
impressed  by  the  spirit  that  everybody  had  toward  this  man 
that  I  couldn't  wait  to  meet  him.   They  said  he  was  coming 
back  second  semester. 


GOODWIN:   It  sounds  like  you  were  going  to  challenge  him 
to  a  duel.   [laughter] 

SHEETS:   Well,  it's  just  the  thing  that  only  a  young  person 
would  ever  feel.   I  mean  anybody  in  his  right  mind  wouldn't 
feel  that  way.   But  I  had  been  so  involved  with  my  world, 
as  I  said,  I  hadn't  been  to  college,  and  the  academic  thing 
seemed  to  me  pretty  extracurricular.   It  really  wasn't 
terribly  important.   I  thought  the  artists  should  have  more 
time  in  the  art  classes,  and  I  had  some  damned  good  students 
Anyway,  at  the  first  faculty  meeting  after  the  break  in  the 
semesters,  sitting  over  on  one  side  was  a  man  who  looked 
exactly  like  an  Iowa  farmer.   He  didn't  look  very  pre- 
possessing.  He  just  looked  intelligent.   It  wasn't  until 
some  things  were  being  debated  in  the  faculty  that  I  heard 
him  open  his  mouth.   After  he  had  said  about  five  sentences, 
I  knew  that  it  was  Hartley  Alexander.   I  instinctively  knew 
that  this  man  was  really  very  special.   He  didn't  make  any 
loud  anything.   He  was  not  one  of  these  table  pounders. 
He  just  had  more  good  sense  and  more  insight  and  more 
common  sense  than  anybody  I'd  ever  met.   I  was  so  impressed 
by  him  and  went  up  afterward  and  introduced  myself,  and  he 
said  he  was  glad  to  meet  me  and  he  was  anxious  to  see  what 
we  were  doing  and  so  forth,  that  he  was  tremendously  inter- 
ested in  the  art  department.   A  few  weeks  later,  he  and 
some  of  the  other  older  members  of  the  faculty  came  for  a 
housewarming  when  we  moved  in.   They  brought  us  a  lot  of 


lovely  little  house  presents  and  so  forth,  and  we  had  a 
marvelous  time.   We  became  extremely  close  friends. 

It  wasn't  until  toward  the  end  of  the  year  that  they 
were  at  our  house  one  night  for  dinner,  and  we'd  had  a 
marvelous  evening.   This  was  during  the  time  that  you 
couldn't  buy  liquor  of  any  kind,  and  I  had  found  a  good 
source  for  some  wine.   They  all  loved  wine,  and  we  had 
had  quite  a  bit  of  wine  at  dinner.   My  wife  had  cooked  a 
beautiful  dinner,  and  we  were  sitting  around  just  talking 
about  things  in  general.   Of  course,  there's  no  one  as 
bright  as  a  second-year  art  student  or  a  first-year  teacher 
in  college,  and  at  the  opportune  moment  I  made  some  mention 
of  the  fact  that  I  thought  that  colleges  weren't  very  well 
organized.   I  had  some  very  talented  young  people,  and  I 
thought  that  they  should  be  given  a  lot  more  time  in  art 
and  that  I  didn't  see  where  all  these  humanities  and  some 
of  these  other  things  fitted  into  the  degree  that  the 
college  seemed  to  think  they  should.   There  was  a  moment 
of  silence,  which  wasn't  even  painful  to  me  because  I  was 
so  pontifical  at  that  moment  I  wouldn't  have  known,  when 
suddenly  Dr.  Alexander  said,  "Well,  Millard,  the  trouble 
with  you  artists  is,  you're  not  educated."   If  somebody 
had  taken  a  twenty-five-pound  sledge  and  hit  me  right 
smack  between  the  eyes,  they  couldn't  have  hit  me  any 
harder.   His  sweet  wife,  Nellie,  stood  up  about  that  time 
and  said,  "Hartley,  you  have  an  eight  o'clock  lecture  and 


we  must  go."   And  they  all  departed. 

Well,  I  never  slept  a  wink  all  night.   I  knew  he  was 
right,  but  on  the  other  hand,  I  think  I  told  you,  I  had 
been  accepted  at  Pomona  College  and  then  had  gone  to  an 
art  school  because  everyone  advised  me  to  do  that  if  I 
was  going  to  be  an  artist.   I  thought  to  myself,  "Well, 
how  does  an  artist  get  an  education,  if  you  can't  get  it 
here  in  an  environment  like  this  with  enough  art  and  so 
forth?"   I  really  was  upset. 

His  office  just  happened  to  be  next  to  mine,  up  on 
the  second  floor  of  Balch  Hall.   Needless  to  say,  I  was 
there  at  seven-thirty  the  next  morning,  knowing  his  habit 
of  coming  to  his  office  about  twenty  minutes  before  his 
eight  o'clock  lecture,  picking  up  his  notes,  and  going 
down  to  his  class.   So  at  seven-thirty  I  was  there,  and 
about  seven-forty  I  heard  him  patter  down  the  hall,  and 
I  popped  out,  and  I  walked  up  to  him  as  he  put  his  key 
into  the  door.   I  said,  "Dr.  Alexander,  you  said  something 
last  night  that  really  shook  me  right  to  the  bottom  of  my 
feet."   I  said,  "I've  thought  about  it  all  night.   I 
haven't  gone  to  sleep.   I  know  you're  right.   But,"  I 
said,  "I  want  to  know  how  an  artist  should  get  an  educa- 
tion under  today's  setup."   He  looked  at  me  with  this 
incredible  look,  and  two  of  the  biggest  tears  I've  ever 
seen  in  my  life  came  down  his  cheeks.   He  turned  the  key 
in  the  door,  and  he  said,  "Come  in."   His  voice  was  very 


husky.   He  walked  over  to  the  telephone  in  his  office,  and 
he  called  down  to  the  registrar's  office.   He  said,  "Please 
dismiss  my  class  this  morning.   I'm  not  lecturing."   That 
man  sat  there  and  talked  to  me  until  five  o'clock  in  the 
afternoon.   He  completely  revolutionized — he  completely 
opened  a  world  that  I  didn't  know  could  exist,  with  the 
most  incredible  combination  of  piercing  criticism  and  un- 
limited love,  the  kind  of  a  guy  that  you  felt  socked  you 
on  the  jaw,  and  just  as  you  started  to  fall  he  lovingly 
held  you  from  falling.   That's  the  way  I  always  felt  about 
Hartley,  all  my  life,  as  long  as  he  lived.   We  were 
incredibly  close  friends.   He  just  opened  up  vistas.   He 
opened  up  so  many.   Well,  I  just  didn't  know  these  things 

GOODWIN:   What  did  he  want  you  to  study?   Did  he  prescribe 
certain  studies  for  you? 

SHEETS:   No,  he  really  talked  about  what  an  educated  per- 
son was,  and  why  an  artist  should  be  ah  educated  person 
and  not  just  a  craftsman.   They  should  have  certainly  a 
sense  of  purpose  and  direction  and  meaning  and  their 
objectives  should  be  so  much  more  than  the  normal  objec- 
tives that  artists  had.   It  was  meant  in  the  most  loving 
way,  never  in  a  mean  way  at  all.   He  didn't  mean  it  in  a 
way  the  night  before.   I  knew  it.   But  it  still  was  a 
sock  in  the  puss  for  a  guy  that  hadn't  had  too  many,  you 
know,  flops  up  to  that  point.   But  that  was  the  most 


marvelous  thing  that  ever  happened  to  me.   I  was  so  moved 
and  stirred  by  it.   We  never  even  realized  it  was  lunch 
time.   It  was  five  o'clock  when  we  discovered  it  was  five 
o'clock.   I  said,  "Well,  could  I  ever  talk  to  you  again 
sometime?"   He  said,  "Well,  why  don't  you  just  set  aside 
Tuesday  nights  for  a  while,  and  you  come  over  to  the  house, 
and  we'll  talk.   Be  there  at  seven.   We'll  just  talk." 

I  went  over  to  his  house  every  Tuesday  night  for  about 
two  months  before  I  had  the  guts  to  say,  "Can't  I  bring 
some  friends  of  mine,  because  I  feel  so  selfish  and  so 
completely  wrong  in  being  here  alone?   What  you're  saying 
would  mean  so  much  to  so  many  of  my  friends  who  are  artists 
that  I  couldn't  begin  to  tell  you."   He  said,  "Well,  if 
they  would  like  to  come,  it's  all  right."   That  started 
what  lasted  about  six  years.   Every  Tuesday  night,  with 
very  few  exceptions,  I  never  missed — only  once  or  twice 
when  he  was  ill.   It  became  a  thing  that  no  one  ever 
really  was  invited  to,  but  if  they  wanted  to  come  and  it 
just  turned  out  that  they  wanted  to  come,  we  never  knew 
whether  there  were  going  to  be  eight  people  there  or 
thirty.   In  six  years  and  a  half  I  never  heard  him  repeat 
himself.   In  six  years  artists  came  from  as  far  away  as 
San  Francisco. 

I  remember  one  night  a  friend  of  mine,  a  sculptor 
from  San  Francisco,  came  down  in  a  semitruck,  and  he  had 
a  piece  of  sculpture  that  weighed  1,000  pounds  in  stone. 


Very  often  artists  would  bring  things  there,  and  he  wouldn't 
give  you  an  ordinary  kind  of  criticism,  but  he  would  talk 
around  the  subject,  and  sometimes  he  would  be  very  direct. 
I  made  innumerable  mural  designs.   At  that  time  I  was 
getting  all  kinds  of  big  jobs,  but  the  only  guy  I  really 
wanted  to  please  was  Hartley.   I  thought  if  I  could  please 
him,  then  I  wasn't  worried  about  what  anybody  else  thought, 
because  he  had  such  an  open  spirit  and  such  a  fantastic 
idea  about,  you  know,  what  art  should  be,  yet  never  con- 
stricting it.   This  night  this  fellow  brought  this  big 
piece  of  sculpture  down.   It  took  five  of  us  to  carry  the 
damn  thing.   Well,  I  think  it  took  seven  of  us.   We  got 
some  big  wood,  finally,  to  put  under  it  and  carried  it  in. 
We  sat  it  down  in  the  middle  of  this  living  room  floor. 
It  was  an  old  house,  and  I  thought,  "My  God,  it  will  go 
right  through  this  termite  floor."   It  sat  there.   Now, 
there  were  about  twenty-five  people  that  night  around  in 
a  big  circle,  and  that  thing  was  sitting  right  there  in 
the  middle.   He  never  mentioned  it  once,  not  once.   I 
became  more  embarrassed  and  more  embarrassed.   I  hadn't 
invited  him  there,  but  he  was  one  of  my  closest  friends, 
the  sculptor  in  San  Francisco,  Jacques  Schneer ,  a  very 
good  sculptor,  actually.   I  became  more  embarrassed  and 
more  embarrassed  because  I  thought,  God,  what  can  I  ever 
say  to  my  friend? 

So  when  it  was  all  over,  and  it  was  always  at  nine- 


fifteen,  Mrs.  Alexander  would  walk  in  with  a  big  tray  of 
hot  chocolate  or  coffee  or  what  everybody  wanted,  and  we'd 
have  about  fifteen  minutes  of  cookies  and  chocolate,  and 
then  everybody  would  leave.   So  at  nine-thirty  we  got  a 
rustle  and  worked  like  hell  to  get  this  thing  back  in  the 
truck.   We  finally  got  it  on  the  truck,  and  I  said,  "Jacques, 
I'm  so  embarrassed."   I  said,  "It's  the  first  time  this  has 
ever  happened.   I  don't  understand  it."   He  said,  "Millard, 
I  don't  understand  what  you're  talking  about."   He  said,  "I 
have  never  had  as  great  a  criticism  in  my  life." 

You  see,  this  was  that  man's  capacity.   He  got  through 
to  the  guy  and  I  was  too  self-conscious  of  the  situation  to 
really  probably  listen  as  I  should  have.   He  said,  "I've 
never  in  my  life  ever  had  such  a  criticism."   He  said, 
"It's  worth  twenty  trips  from  San  Francisco."   Now  that's 
a  teacher,  isn't  it?   That  was  Hartley  Alexander.   That 
guy  was  so  incredible. 

GOODWIN:   What  are  some  of  the  things  you  talked  about? 
Or  was  it  a  discussion?   Was  it  mostly  a  monologue? 
SHEETS:   It  was  always  a  discussion,  but  the  discussion 
was  nearly  always  answering  questions.   Or  sometimes  he'd 
let  you  go  a  ways,  and  then  he  would  say  that  you're  on 
the  right  track. 
GOODWIN:   The  Socratic  method. 

SHEETS:   But  to  not  repeat  yourself  in  six  and  a  half 
years  .... 


GOODWIN:   Well,  did  he  talk  about  politics  or  campus 


SHEETS:   There  wasn't  anything  in  the  world  he  didn't  talk 

about.   He  knew  the  history  of  art  better  than  anybody  I 

ever  knew.   He  was  utterly  at  home.   Of  course  by  this 

time  we  were  all  pretty  well  involved  with  all  these  things, 

so  that  it  was  so  much  fun  to  be  able  to  talk  with  a  guy  who 

could  talk  with  such  excitement  about  Greece  or  Egypt  or 

Rome  or  Renaissance  or  Dutch  seventeenth  century  painters. 

It  didn't  make  any  difference  to  him.   Except  the  modern 

world--he  knew  nothing  about  it. 

Now,  this  is  the  truth  of  his  capacity.   They  had  the 
first  great  van  Gogh  show  in  San  Francisco  about  a  year 
before  Hartley  died,  and  I  had  never  seen  more  than  four 
or  five  van  Goghs  in  my  life,  which  I  had  seen  at  the 
Hatfield  Galleries  and  a  couple  in  New  York.   So  I  wanted 
to  go  up  with  my  wife,  and  we  invited  Hartley  and  Nellie 
to  go  with  us.   We  drove  up  to  San  Francisco,  and  next 
morning  arrived  at  the  Palace  of  the  Legion  of  Honor 
museum  at  opening  time,  nine  o'clock.   They  had  about  200 
drawings  and  about  200  paintings;  it  was  the  first  great 
show  that  ever  came  to  America.   I  had  told  him  about  van 
Gogh,  and  he  said,  "Well,  who  is  this  man?"   I  said,  "Well, 
he  lived  in  the  late  part  of  the  nineteenth  century,  and 
he  was  a  postimpressionist. "   It  didn't  mean  much  to  him. 
I  said,  "But  he  painted  his  gut,  and  you  know,  a  great 


guy,  and  I  think  you  ought  to  see  the  show."   I  think  he 
went  up  there  mainly  because  we  loved  to  be  together.   Well, 
though  they  were  so  much  older  than  we  were,  we  just  had  a 
ball  anytime  we  were  together.   We  had  lots  of  fun.   We  had 
to  stop  one  night  on  the  way  up  because  in  those  days  it 
took  a  long  time  to  drive.   It  was  the  better  part  of  two 
days,  at  least. 

So  we  got  up  there  and  went  to  the  opening.   We  went 
in,  and  the  four  of  us  were  moving  along,  looking  at  the 
first  group  of  paintings.   Then  Hartley  kind  of  swung  over 
and  went  over  to  the  other  wall,  and  I  was  so  excited  about 
these  things — God,  I  had  to  talk  to  somebody — and  I  moved 
over  where  he  was  to  say  something  about  it.   For  the  first 
time  in  my  life,  he  turned  his  back  on  me.   After  about  two 
of  those  things  I  realized  that  he  didn't  want  to  talk  to 
me  about  anything.   Well,  we  wandered  through  there,  about 
six  big  galleries  or  seven.   It  was  a  huge,  huge  show. 
Finally,  I  kept  running  into  Mrs.  Alexander  and  Mary — they 
were  together — and  they  were  just  so  excited,  and  I  was 
terribly  excited.   Finally,  Mrs.  Alexander,  because  he  had 
a  bad  heart  condition,  said,  "I'm  worried  about  Hartley. 
I  haven't  seen  him."   I  said,  "I  saw  him  about  an  hour  ago." 
This  was  almost  two  and  a  half  hours  after  we  went  in  there. 
She  said,  "If  we  stay  right  here,  if  he  comes  from  that 
direction  we  can  catch  him,  and  would  you  do  it  the  other 
way?"   I  went  the  other  way.   Well,  we  couldn't  find  him. 


So  I  went  out  finally  to  the  steps  of  the  museum.   And  way 
off — I  can  still  remember  the  spot — he  was  sitting  looking 
out  into  space.   I  walked  up  to  him,  and  I  said,  "Hartley, 
are  you  all  right?"   "Yes,  I'm  all  right,  I'm  all  right." 
I  said,  "Are  you  ill?   I'm  really  worried  about  you.   Are 
you  ill?"   "Oh,  no,  no,  I'm  not  ill."   I  said,  "Well,  what's 
the  trouble?"   "Well,"  he  said,  "I  have  just  seen  one  of 
the  greatest  autobiographies  ever  written."   Now  that  was 
his  response  to  van  Gogh. 

He  came  back  and  wrote  an  essay  on  that  exhibition 
that  I  want  to  tell  you  was  one  of  the  greatest  things,  I 
think,  ever  written  about  van  Gcgh.   It's  just  a  fantastic 
essay.   If  I  can,  I'm  going  to  get  a  copy  of  that.   His 
son  lives  in  Albuquerque,  New  Mexico;  he's  head  of  the 
philosophy  department  there  [University  of  New  Mexico] . 
I  want  to  get  a  copy,  because  we  had  a  copy  and  I  gave  it 
to  Scripps  Library,  and  something  happened  to  it  there — 
which  I  can't  believe,  but  it  did.   I'd  like  to  get  another 
copy  of  that  and  give  another  one  to  Scripps.   It's  an 
incredible  essay.   It's  so  much  of  what  we're  talking 
about:   the  real  thing,  not  the  verbiage,  not  the  tickling 
up  of  cutting  off  ears  and  that  kind  of  thing.   It's  an 
incredibly  beautiful  thing,  a  completely  natural,  instant 
reaction  from  a  man  who  wasn't  really  accustomed  to  the 
whole  modern  development,  really.   He  wasn't  opposed  to 
it,  he  wasn't  fighting  it,  but  he  just  had  never  become 


really  involved  in  it  because  of  his  great  background. 

But  it  was  Hartley  who  really  conceived  of  the  whole 
concept  of  Scripps  College,  which  was  basically  three  years 
of  required  humanities,  double  courses,  two  out  of  the  five 
courses  required  of  everyone.   It  was  the  first  college  in 
the  United  States  to  be  based  on  the  humanities  because  it 
started  this  in  1927. 
GOODWIN:   It  was  a  women's  college? 

SHEETS:   Yes,  it  still  is.   It  was  the  first  college  in  the 
United  States  that  really  had  this  kind  of  an  approach, 
where  a  student  in  the  freshman  year  started  with  ancient 
history  and  came  up  chronologically  to  modern  times.   Roman 
empire,  I  think.   Various  professors  in  the  separate  fields 
coordinated  in  presenting  the  course.   They  each  lectured, 
and  then  they  had  the  discussion  groups.   So  there  would 
be  four  or  five  professors  in  each  of  the  three  humanities, 
the  freshman,  sophomore,  and  junior  years.   Art  was  never 
separated  from  the  reality  of  what  went  on  in  politics,  in 
religion,  and  every  other  field,  that  everything  grew 
naturally  together--as  anyone  who  knows  anything  about 
the  humanities  understands,  but  it  was  a  big  experiment 
in  those  days.   Of  course,  I  thought  it  was  not  hogwash, 
but  I  didn't  think  it  was  that  important  until  I  became 
involved  in  it  and  sat  through  all  three  years  of  the 
whole  course,  hearing  the  other  people  lecture  and  coming 
away  a  totally  different  person  in  a  sense  of  relating  it 


to  my  life,  which  I  never  could  have  done  otherwise. 

That's  why  I  think  we  turned  out  so  many  marvelous 
students  in  Claremont  in  those  days — the  fact  that  it  was 
so  different  having  a  student  from  Pomona  or  Scripps,  for 
example.   A  Pomona  student  took  a  spot  course  in  history 
over  a  year  and  a  spot  course  in  economics  over  a  year  and 
maybe  religion  or  philosophy  or  something  else.   You  were 
at  home  talking  with  any  student  at  Scripps  at  all  times 
in  the  history  of  art  because  they  had  had  it.   They  had 
had  a  different  feeling  about  it.   It  isn't  that  history 
of  art  is  everything,  but  if  you  want  to  get  started  off, 
it's  a  good  thing  to  have  some  background  in  the  fantastic 
body  of  knowledge  that  we've  come  out  of.   These  kids  were 
so  influential  on  the  other  students  that  other  students 
from  Pomona  audited  a  fantastic  number  of  these  humanities 
courses.   The  graduate  students  came  into  the  humanities 
courses.   When  we  developed  our  big  graduate  school,  which 
we  did  after  two  or  three  years,  that  was  all  Alexander's 
original  concept  and  the  reason  he  came  to  Scripps.   He 
was  the  head  of  the  philosophy  department  at  the  University 
of  Nebraska  and  had  a  job  for  the  rest  of  his  life  at  a 
very  high,  much  higher  stipend  than  he  ever  got  at  Scripps, 
I'm  sure.   But  he  came  there  because  the  president  agreed 
that  they  would  build  the  thing  he'd  always  dreamed  of  as 
the  basic  curriculum  of  Scripps.   It  was  an  amazing 
experience,  really. 


DECEMBER  4 ,  1976 

GOODWIN:   Last  session  we  began  to  discuss  the  Scripps 
College  experience,  and  Mr.  Sheets  profiled  Professor 
Hartley  Alexander.   We  were  just  beginning  to  discuss 
the  need  to  build  some  studio  spaces  for  art  work,  since 
there  weren't  any  at  the  time. 

SHEETS:   George,  it  was  quite  an  experience  for  me,  never 
having  been  to  college,  to  go  to  Scripps — as  I  told  you 
at  our  last  session,  presumably  for  one  year — and  then  to 
become  so  excited  about  being  there,  and  the  college's 
wish  to  have  me  remain.   I  became  deeply  involved  with 
everything  about  the  college--the  humanities  program  and, 
of  course,  the  art  department.   The  most  difficult  thing 
of  all  for  me,  having  had  only  experience  in  an  art  school- 
with  ample  technical  facilities,  studio  space,  and  so 
forth — we  found  ourselves  working  classrooms  which  were 
beautiful  classrooms  but  utterly  unsuited  as  painting 
studios.   There  was  light  from  all  sides,  artificial  light 
that  was  very  glaring  and  spotty,  as  far  as  studio  light 
is  concerned.   So  I  prevailed  upon  the  president  to  the 
best  of  my  ability  to  help  us  find  some  kind  of  temporary 
solution  to  the  problems. 

And  it's  hard  to  believe,  but  in  those  days  I  figured 
out  that  we  could  build  an  enormous  barn  for  about  $3,300. 


There  was  an  old  olive  grove  on  the  edge  of  the  campus,  so 
I  thought  we  could  hide  this  in  the  middle  of  that  grove 
and  nobody  would  ever  know  that  it  was  there.   "After  the 
Depression  is  over,  if  it  ever  ends,  why,  we  can  build  an 
art  department."   But  I  asked  for  $3,300.   I  remember  the 
day  very  clearly.   The  president.  Dr.  [Ernst]  Jaqua ,  said, 
"Well,  Millard,  I  have  a  discretionary  fund  which  I  can 
give  you  for  $3,300."   He  said,  "We  can't  afford  it,  but  I 
have  the  right  to  do  that."   He  said,  "But  you  are  making 
the  most  dreadful  mistake  in  the  world  because  what  you 
call  a  'temporary'  building  isn't  going  to  be  'temporary.' 
It's  going  to  be  there  ten  or  fifteen  years  from  now,  if 
we're  still  here  operating.   That's  just  the  way  things 
work.   I  strongly  advise  against  it."   I  said,  "Dr.  Jaqua, 
what  are  we  going  to  do?   I  cannot  teach.   We  need  more 
staff  people  to  be  added.   We  need  to  give  these  students 
the  fair  kind  of  treatment.   We  just  can't  work  where  we 
are."   He  said,  "Be  trusting  and,  above  all,  be  patient 
for  one  year."   I  said,  "Well,  what  does  that  mean?   That 
you're  going  to  help  me  raise  money  for  the  whole  thing?" 
He  said,  "No.   We  won't  work  that  way.   I  want  you  to  set 
up  a  Scripps  College  Fine  Arts  Foundation,  a  supporting 
group,  asking  for  nothing  but  giving  everything.   I'll 
give  you  the  $3,300,  and  you  try  to  arrange  a  series  of 
exhibitions.   I  know  we  don't  have  a  proper  place  to  have 
an  exhibition,  but,"  he  said,  "you  arrange  the  most 


distinguished  little  groups  of  things  that  you  can  arrange 
and  change  every  month,  and  we'll  get  fifteen,  twenty, 
thirty  members,  maybe  pay  ten  dollars  a  year  for  this 
membership.   But  we'll  spend  some  money  for  real  speakers, 
and  we'll  put  on  an  exciting  program  and  get  people  inter- 
ested in  art.   If  you  do  that  it  will  come  about  without 
ever  asking  for  anything." 

Well,  it  seemed  far  off  and  unrealistic  to  me,  but  I 
admired  the  man  so  much  as  an  organizer  and  in  the  way  he 
built  the  college,  the  kind  of  staff  he  brought  together, 
that  I  didn't  have  much  choice  except  to  agree  with  him. 
So  I  started  out  planning  the  exhibits  through  the  next 
year,  and  I  worked  out  a  very  careful  program  for  eight 
exhibits.   Having  just  read  Lust  for  Life  by  Irving  Stone, 
I  was  intrigued  with  the  possibility  of  getting  him  to  give 
the  first  lecture.   I  didn't  know  him — I  didn't  claim  to 
be  a  literary  critic — but  I  enjoyed  the  book  so  much.   I 
thought  if  I  could  get  Irving  Stone  with  his  enthusiasm, 
he  would  really  bring  to  life  this  whole  idea  of  what  we 
were  trying  to  do.   Fortunately,  he  had  just  moved  to  Los 
Angeles,  and  I  was  able  to  get  him.   He,  I  think,  was  as 
happy  to  have  us  ask  him  as  we  were  to  get  him,  because 
his  book  had  only  barely  been  on  the  market,  and  he  had 
not  become  the  successful  author  financially  that  he 
became  almost  immediately.   So  for  a  sum  total  of  fifty 
dollars,  or  thirty-f ive--I  never  could  remember  for  sure 


which  it  was  he  asked  for  a  fee — we  brought  Irving  Stone 
to  Scripps  College.   He  gave  a  marvelous  lecture. 

From  that  we  went  into  other  shows,  and  one  of  them 
was  a  show  in  Pasadena  which  we  arranged  in  the  house  of 
Mrs.  [Josephine]  Everett,  who  had  been  a  collector  for  a 
long  time  of  painting  in  California,  and  who  had  a  lovely 
house  and  gallery  near  the  old  Vista  [del  Arroyo]  Hotel 
here  in  Pasadena.   She  invited  me  to  have  an  exhibition 
of  my  work  and  to  speak  to  a  group  of  her  friends  about 
what  our  hopes  were  for  the  future  at  Scripps.   I  did, 
and  at  that  lecture  a  guest  of  one  of  the  women  that  Mrs. 
Everett  had  invited  as  her  guest  came  up  to  me  after  the 
lecture  and  said,  "I'm  very  much  interested  in  this  thing 
that  you're  talking  about  and  what  you  hope  to  do  at 
Scripps.   I  don't  live  in  California;  I  live  in  Montclair, 
New  Jersey.   I'm  going  to  be  returning  the  day  after 
tomorrow.   Could  I  come  to  the  college  tomorrow?"   I 
assured  her  she  would  be  most  welcome  if  she  came,  and 
next  day  she  walked  into  my  classroom  and,  seeing  the 
forest  of  easels  and  people,  the  confusion  and  the  bad 
lighting  and  everything  else,  she  said,  "My,  you  do  need 
this  first  unit,  as  you  call  it.   What  is  it  going  to 
cost?"   Well,  we  had  no  plans.   We  hadn't  had  any  estimates. 
I  thought  we  should  go  immediately  to  the  president's  office, 
which  we  did,  and  without  any  announcement  to  him  or  any 
prewarning  of  any  kind,  he  accepted  us  into  his  office. 


I  explained  what  had  happened,  that  Mrs.  Lang  was  very 
much  interested  in  the  possibility  of  what  we  were  going 
to  do.   She  asked  the  question  immediately,  "How  much  is 
it  going  to  cost  for  this  first  unit?"   I  swallowed  very 
hard  and  I  said,  "I  think  around  $37,500."   (Because  I 
figured  if  we  could  build  a  good  barn  for  $3,300,  we 
ought  to  get  a  fairly  decent  building  for  $37,500.)   She 
smiled  in  a  nice  way  and  looked  out  the  window,  and  she 
said,  "Well,  I  would  like  to  do  this.   I  will  send  you  a 
check.   I'm  leaving  in  the  morning,  but  I  will  send  you 
a  check . " 

Well,  of  course,  I  walked  out  of  there  three  feet 
off  the  ground,  so  excited  about  the  prospect  of  getting 
out  of  these  holes  that  we  were  in  where  we  were  trying 
to  teach.   I  went  back  to  my  class  and  went  home  and  was 
telling  my  wife  excitedly  about  this  woman  that  had  come 
out  of  the  blue,  out  of  the  sky,  to  make  this  offer,  when 
the  telephone  rang.   It  was  President  Jaqua .   He  said, 
"Millard,  I  know  how  excited  you  are  about  the  possibility 
of  this  thing,  but,"  he  said,  "I  must  tell  you  that  I've 
known  a  great  many  people,  and  I'm  afraid  there's  a  good, 
strong  possibility  that  this  woman  falls  into  a  category 
that  we  think  of  as  delusions  of  grandeur.   I  am  really 
afraid  that  she  is  one  of  these  people.   She  probably 
gives  millions  of  dollars  away  every  month  and  probably 
means  everything  that  she  ever  says,  but  of  course  hasn't 


the  ability  to  do  it.   It  was  too  easy.   She  volunteered 
it  entirely;  she  wasn't  asking  for  anything."   He  said 
she  really  didn't  have  time  to  get  into  the  meat  of  it, 
and  he  said,  "I  just  can't  believe  that  it  can  be  real." 
But  happily,  I  can  say  that  the  next  morning  at  ten 
o'clock  in  the  mail  came  a  certified  check  for  $37,500. 
Well,  it's  a  long  and  interesting  story,  but  I'll  just 
brief  it  by  saying  that  I  wrote  to  her  immediately  and 
told  her  how  happy  I  was,  and  did  she  have  any  advice, 
suggestions  at  all,  as  to  what  might  be  included  in  this 
building?   The  only  letter  she  ever  wrote  me  was  a  return 
letter  in  which  she  indignantly  said  she  was  fairly  sorry 
that  she  had  given  me  the  money,  that  she  felt  that  I  had 
no  right  to  ask  anyone  if  I  didn't  want  to  stick  my  neck 
on  the  block  and  take  full  responsibility  for  the  decisions, 
that  she  thought  maybe  she'd  made  a  mistake.   Well,  I  sent 
her  photographs  of  the  construction,  and  then  more  beautiful 
photographs.   I  made  up  a  wonderful  album  after  the  building 
[Lang  Hall]  was  finished  and  the  students  were  in  it  and 
working  so  beautifully  with  the  new  staff  that  we'd  added. 
It  made  a  fantastic  impact  upon  the  college  to  have  this 
opportunity.   I  sent  her  a  beautiful  album  that  I  made  up. 
I  never  heard  from  her  or  never  had  any  thank  you  or  go  to 
hell.   I  think  it  was  about  two  and  a  half  years  later,  I 
was  in  the  middle  of  this  beautiful,  big  studio  with  a 
class  that  was  probably  twice  the  size  it  should  have  been. 


a  big  painting  studio,  when  I  looked  up  as  the  door  opened, 
and  standing  in  the  doorway  was  this  same  gentle,  little 
woman— same  dress,  same  hat,  same  wonderful  smile—and  she 
motioned  toward  me.   I ,  of  course,  immediately  went  to  see 
her.   "My,  but  we  are  crowded,"  she  said.   "I  guess  it's 
about  time  for  the  second  unit."   Unsolicited,  completely 
out  of  the  blue,  here  she  was,  and  it  was  such  an  exciting 
thing.   She  said,  "All  right,  now  what's  it  going  to  cost 
this  time?"   Well,  this  time  we  were  very  well  organized. 
We  had  a  master  plan,  of  course,  that  the  architects  at 
the  college  and  I  had  worked  out  for  the  whole  art  building. 
We  had  actual  cost  estimates  for  the  next  unit,  the  second, 
the  middle  unit  of  the  three  units  that  we  built.   I  said, 
"This  time  it's  going  to  be  a  great  deal  more."   Of  course, 
inflation  had  already  started,  and  also  we  were  adding  a 
very  much  larger  chunk.   This  time  I  think  if  I  remember 
correctly,  I  told  her  it  was  around  $18  0,000.   We  had 
actual  estimates  at  that  time.   She  said,  "Well,  I'm  very 
anxious  to  get  this  down  the  road,  so  I  will  send  you  a 
check,"  and  she  did.   This  time  there  was  no  question  about 
delusions  of  grandeur.   We  knew  that  she  would.   The  same 
thing  followed:   more  wonderful  excitement  and  adding  to 
the  building,  adding  to  the  staff.   Of  course  I  kept  her 

informed . 

It  wasn't  until  perhaps  three  and  a  half  years  later 
that  she  arrived  again.   She  had  never  been  out  to  see  the 


buildings  at  all,  but  she  suddenly  appeared  again.   I  won't 
say  it  was  in  the  same  dress  this  time,  but  there  she  was 
and  very  excited  about  what  she  saw.   We  had  lunch  with  the 
president  and  several  of  the  staff,  and  everyone  had  a 
chance  to  express  their  gratitude  and  appreciation  for 
what  she  had  done  in  such  an  unselfish  way.   I  might  say 
also  that  she  had  insisted  her  name  should  not  be  used  in 
any  way  on  the  building.   It  was  always  an  anonymous  gift. 
I  had  quite  a  time  persuading  her  even  to  let  me  introduce 
her  to  the  staff.   The  president  and  I  up  to  this  time  were 
the  only  people  who  knew  who  she  was  and  had  ever  really 
talked  to  her. 
GOODWIN:   Madame  X. 

SHEETS:   Madame  X.   The  most  charming,  quiet,  lovely  person, 
without  any  affectation,  just  as  natural  as  an  old  shoe. 
Well,  this  time  she  looked  into  the  matter  very  thoroughly, 
because  now  we  were  talking  in  the  neighborhood  of  around 
$700,000  to  complete  the  whole  thing  with  all  the  galleries 
and  the  whole  business.   After  I  explained  the  whole  thing 
to  her  and  gave  her  the  budget,  she  said,  "All  right,  I 
want  to  see  this  through.   But  we're  going  to  do  it  dif- 
ferently this  time.   This  time  I'm  going  to  give  you 
matching  money.   Whatever  the  people  here  raise,  up  to 
half  of  it  I  will  match.   I'm  sure  that  you  will  have  no 
difficulty  getting  the  money.   I  could  do  it  all,  but  I 
think  now  the  people  here  should  be  involved  very  definitely. 


so  that  they  don't  think  that  it's  always  being  done  by 

outsiders . " 

I  gave  a  talk  to  the  foundation  at  the  next  monthly 
meeting  and  explained  that  this  lovely  woman  who  had  given 
us  our  great  bequests  before  had  come  back  to  urge  us  to 
finish  the  building,  and  that  she  had  made  this  offer. 
All  I  did  was  state  that  the  offer  had  been  made.   We 
never  directly  asked  for  a  dime,  and  in  less  than  two 
weeks,  we  had  the  money  to  do  the  whole  thing.   It  came 
in  voluntarily,  ranging  from  twenty-five  dollar  gifts  up 
to  $25,000  gifts.   It  just  seemed  to  come  right  up  out  of 
the  ground,  and  it's  a  lesson  that  I  really  think  I  learned 
and  I  love  because  people  who  really  want  to  do  something 
are  so  different  than  people  you  corner  and  ask  for  some- 
thing.  You  can  get  them  excited  and  gat  them  to  believe 
in  what  you're  trying  to  do. 

The  foundation  had  become  a  marvelous  institution  by 
this  time.   It  operated  quite  separately  from  the  college. 
The  members  had  their  own  officer,  they  had  their  own 
budgets,  they  had  their  own  reason  for  existence,  but 
they  didn't  control  the  college,  and  we  didn't  control 
them.   It  was  a  wonderful  thougnt  that  the  president  had 
when  he  dreamed  this  up,  that  it  should  be  an  independent 
body  that  would  simply  believe  in  the  same  objectives.   I 
met  with  them  every  month  in  their  board  meetings,  and  of 
course  we  had  our  regular  meetings  with  their  group.   By 


this  time  the  membership  had  grown  to  almost  500.   We  had 
people  coming  from  San  Diego,  Santa  Barbara,  Los  Angeles, 
Pasadena,  and  Beverly  Hills,  because  there  was  activity 
and  excitement  there  and  we  had  good  exhibits. 

I  remerriber  we  started  in  those  days,  I  think,  the  most 
exciting  series  of  national  ceramic  shows.   Ceramics  was 
just  coming  back  into  reality.   After  the  craftsmen  had 
neglected  it  for  a  long  time,  some  absolutely  marvelous 
artists  all  over  the  country  were  doing  ceramics.   We 
developed  a  very  fine  ceramic  department  at  Scripps.   So 
each  year  we  put  on,  in  the  spring,  a  national  ceramics 
show,  by  invitation.   To  give  you  some  idea  of  the  excite- 
ment that  developed  out  there — without  trying  to  sell, 
because  we  never  would  have  assumed  the  position  of  being 
a  sales  gallery,  and  we  didn't  take  any  commission— we 
sold  an  average  of  $5,000  worth  of  ceramics  at  every  one 
of  these  shows,  which  was  an  incredible  amount  of  money 
for  just  a  beautiful  exhibition.   We  put  on  the  shows 
with  a  lot  of  flair  because  it  was  at  the  time  that  the 
azaleas  were  in  bloom,  and  we  had  a  fantastic  gardener 
at  Scripps  in  those  days  who  had  these  great  azalea 
bushes.   We  could  put  the  pots  up  on  stands  ten  feet 
high,  and  they  would  hang  clear  to  the  floor  with 
cascades  of  the  most  beautiful  white  or  pink  blooms. 
GOODWIN:   Did  you  actually  handle  the  installations? 
SHEETS:   Oh,  I  did  every  bit  of  that  installation.   I 


used  to  haul  the  material  and  put  it  up  myself,  eventually 
with  the  help  of  a  few  students  and  eventually  the  help  of 
a  staff  member.   But  for  something  like  fifteen  years,  I 
did  this  whole  thing  alone,  which  was  exciting.   I  think 
it  was  one  of  the  most  interesting  parts  of  being  at 
Scripps,  to  get  to  borrow  great  things  and  to  have  the 
galleries  where  we  could  put  shows  on  properly  with 
excellent  lighting. 

In  those  days  it  was  so  much  easier  to  borrow  important 
things.   Today  collectors  have  become  more  cautious,  as  I 
think  they  should  become,  because  the  danger  in  shipping 
and  the  carelessness  in  handling  art  is  really  shocking. 
I  can  say,  fortunately,  we  never  had  any  damage  during  all 
those  years,  but  I  used  to  have  my  heart  in  my  mouth  half 
the  time  driving  through  traffic,  carrying  incredibly 
valuable  things.   People  like  [Walter]  Arensberg  and  many 
others  loaned  me  some  of  their  priceless  things  because 
they  knew  that  I  had  the  same  feeling  they  did  about  their 
works.   I  borrowed  things  from  all  over  the  world,  really, 
for  some  of  our  exhibitions. 

GOODWIN:   Have  you  ever  been  active  in  ceramics  yourself? 
SHEETS:   I've  done  just  enough  to  love  it,  but  I  never 
really  have  done  anything  of  any  consequence.   I  used  to 
turn  a  little  on  a  wheel,  and  I  used  to  decorate  bowls 
quite  a  bit  that  some  of  the  staff  members  would  throw. 
We  had  wonderful  sessions.   The  staff  sometimes  would  work 


one  night  a  week  for  maybe  six  months.   We'd  get  excited 
and  do  a  lot  of  things.   I  happen  to  be  very,  very  keen 
about  ceramics,  and  I  think  that  the  majority  of  the  col- 
lection that  my  wife  and  I  have  in  our  home  is  really 
ceramic.   It's  mostly  sculpture,  but  it's  also  many  great 
pots  and  various  sculptures  from  all  over  the  world. 

But  the  fun  about  that  whole  exhibition  program  was 
that  it  was  tied  so  completely  into  both  the  art  teaching 
program  and  the  humanities  program.   I  think  that  the 
reason  that  Scripps  meant  so  much  to  me,  not  only  as  a 
marvelous  environment  in  which  to  get  an  education 
because  I  really  hadn't  had,  as  I  told  you,  anything  like 
a  formal  education— was  the  humanities  program.   Did  we 
mention  that  much  previously? 

GOODWIN:   You  discussed  how  Professor  Hartley  Alexander 
designed  the  curriculum. 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  won't  go  back  into  the  detail  of  how  the 
staff  worked  on  an  integrated  concept  that  was  required 
for  the  first  three  years,  but  I  think  the  fun  was  that 
the  Scripps  students  who  had  the  required  background  were 
so  easy  to  talk  to  in  a  painting  class  or  a  sculpture 
class  or  any  other  kind  of  a  class.   Certainly  in  art 
history,  they  had  a  background  that  the  student  who  had 
only  had  a  smattering  of  a  course  here  and  there  in  art 
history  or  something  else  never  had.   Of  course  we  had 
students  from  all  the  colleges.   So  it  was  outstanding 


to  see  the  difference  in  the  way  they  reacted  and  the  way 
they  felt  at  home  in  the  world  of  art.   I  know  you  had  a 
question  to  ask. 

GOODWIN:   Yeah.   You  didn't  name  the  secret  donor. 
SHEETS:   Oh,  I  didn't?   Well,  when  we  finished  the  final 
building,  it  was  like  wrestling  with  an  angel,  believe  me, 
to  get  her  to  finally  allow  us  to  use  her  name  on  the 
gallery  only.   Her  name  was  Florence  Rand  Lang.   She  was 
from  Montclair,  New  Jersey,  but  her  history  was  so  fabu- 
lous.  She  and  her  husband  had  given  numerous  buildings 
to  Dartmouth  College.   I  think  they  gave  one  to  Cornell. 
They  had  given,  I  believe,  the  majority  of  the  money— 
I'm  not  sure  about  this,  but  I  think  so— to  the  Montclair 
Museum.   They  had  built  wonderful  cottages  up  in  Cape  Cod 
so  that  artists— I  mean  serious  artists,  not  students  but 
serious  artists— could  go  and  spend  the  summer  at  Cape 
Cod,  rent  free,  to  work  in  those  cottages.   She  had  almost 
a  colony  of  artists  up  there,  anc  she  in  no  way  tried  to 
in  any  way  direct  them  but  simply  made  the  place  available 
to  them.   They  were  just  genuinely  genuine,  wonderful, 
generous  people,  who  did  so  much  for  everything  they 
touched . 

GOODWIN:   What  was  the  source  of  their  wealth? 
SHEETS:   I  have  never  known.   I  have  never  known  what  it 
was.   I  remember  we  even  asked  it  one  time,  and  I  think 
she  said  her  husband,  who  was  then  dead,  was  an  industri- 


alist.   But  she  never  said  what  kind  of  an  industrialist, 
and  I  don't  know  that  I  have  heard  the  name  Lang  associated 
with  any  particular  business.   They  had  a  considerable 
amount  of  money,  but  never  in  any  way  did  she  seem  preten- 
tious about  it.   It  was  the  most  gentle,  loving  sort  of 
way  that  she  approached  every  problem.   Later  her  grand- 
daughter went  to  Scripps,  and  she  was  a  very  distinguished 
student,  fortunately.   There  are  sometimes  unusual  incidents 
when  your  best  friend's  child  goes  to  college  and  it  isn't 
always  true  that  the  child  is  the  most  bright.   But  she 
was  a  very  bright  young  woman  and  was  a  great  success  at 
Scripps — not  because  her  grandmother  had  given  the  art 
building  but  because  she  was  just  one  whale  of  a  good 
GOODWIN:   Were  there  art  departments  in  any  of  the  other 

Claremont  Colleges? 

SHEETS:   Yes,  rightly  so.   Pomona  College,  of  course,  had 
an  art  department  before  we  started  this  department  at 
Scripps,  but  their  emphasis  had  been  on  music.   When  I 
was  brought  to  Scripps,  the  idea  was  that  we  would  develop 
an  art  department  at  Scripps  that  would  serve,  at  that 
time,  only  the  two  colleges,  Scripps  and  Pomona,  the  same 
way  that  the  music  department  served  both  colleges.   Now, 
this  was  for  students  who  were  more  seriously  interested 
in  art.   They  felt  that  they  needed  an  art  department  for 
the  average  student,  and  that  was  absolutely  right.   We 


couldn't  have  handled  all  of  the  students  that  should  have 
had  some  art  experience.   But  for  those  who  wanted  to 
major  in  art,  who  wanted  to  come  there  and  deliberately 
come  there  because  of  the  art,  we  were  the  semiprof essional 
approach  to  that  problem. 

Some  of  the  most  distinguished  people,  I  believe,  were 
brought  to  Scripps.   I  had  the  pleasure  of  bringing  them 
from  New  York,  from  various  parts  of  the  country:   Albert 
Stewart,  the  sculptor;  Henry  Lee  McFee ,  a  very  distinguished 
painter;  Phil  Dike,  who  I'd  not  only  gone  to  school  with  but 
who  had  been  an  associate  in  so  many  ways.   When  he  gave  up 
the  directorship  of  all  color  and,  really,  design  at 
Disney's,  I  brought  him  to  Scripps.   We  had,  over  a  period 
of  years,  an  incredible  group  of  architects  and  painters: 
James  Chapin,  the  American  painter,  who  was  quite  famous; 
Richard  Petterson  in  ceramics;  Ted  Criley  in  architecture; 
Marian  Stewart,  who  was  Albert  Stewart's  wife,  in  weaving; 
Whitney  Smith  in  architecture;  Sueo  Serisawa,  the  painter. 
These  are  all  names  I'm  sure  everyone  is  familiar  with 
around  here.   They  were,  at  one  time  or  another,  members 
of  our  staff,  and  our  staff  generally  was  around  ten  in 

number . 

GOODWIN:   It  must  have  been  the  largest  department  in  the 


SHEETS:   It  was,  really,  because  we  were  doing  a  tremendous 

amount  of  graduate  work,  which  was  the  most  exciting  thing. 


particularly  after  the  war.   As  every  institution  was 
loaded  with  GI  students,  and  as  we  had  built  a  decent 
reputation  for  the  art,  we  did  attract  some  absolutely 
unbelievable  talent  from  all  over  the  country.   The 
graduate  work  had  been  built  up  really  on  the  backs  of 
my  original  staff,  who  were  never  given  any  release  time 
to  do  graduate  work.   They  did  it  in  addition  to  their 
undergraduate  work  for  the  same  pay.   But  it  developed 
to  the  point  where  we  did  have  several  graduate  appoint- 
ments, like  Jean  Ames  and  others,  who,  in  addition  to  the 
names  I've  mentioned,  were  very  important  not  only  on  the 
undergraduate  level  but  particularly  on  the  graduate  level. 
It  was  an  exciting  group,  and  by  this  time  we  were  serving 
four  colleges,  because  two  more  colleges  [Claremont  and 
Harvey  Mudd]  had  been  added.   It  was  quite  right  that  it 
should  have  been  that  size  staff. 

GOODWIN:   How  was  the  graduate  program  designed?   What 
were  the  features? 

SHEETS:   We  deliberately  moved  away  from  art  education, 
teacher  education,  that  is  the  preparation  of  teachers  to 
teach  art.   We  felt  that  the  universities  were  loaded  with 
that  problem,  and  we  weren't  too  happy  with  the  way  it  was 
being  done.   We  decided  to  have  a  professional  degree,  a 
master  of  fine  arts,  with  a  minimum  of  two  years  of 
graduate  work,  with  no  assurance,  of  course,  that  two 
years  would  get  the  students  the  degree,  but  to  insure 


proficiency  in  at  least  one  or  two  areas.   [phone  rings; 
tape  recorder  turned  off]   We  believed  that  a  teacher 
should  be  a  thorough  craftsman  and  a  well-trained  artist, 
both  aesthetically,  technically,  and  certainly  with  a 
sense  of  the  place  an  artist  should  serve  in  society. 
It  was  that  general  spirit  that  prevailed.   We  were 
extremely  selective  in  looking  at  people's  portfolios. 
Even  though  they  were  college  graduates,  if  they  didn't 
have  the  technical  facility,  we  would  recommend  that  they 
go  to  an  art  school  for  a  year  or  two  before  they  came  to 
us.   It  worked  out  very  well.   In  some  instances  we 
accepted  students  that  had  not  been  to  college.   They 
took  a  general  cultural  test  which  the  college  itself 
put  on,  not  the  art  department.   In  two  or  three  instances, 
some  of  the  most  distinguished  people  we  turned  out  came 
through  that  route.   So  we  weren't  sticky  about  the  number 
of  units  that  they  might  have  had  behind  them. 
GOODWIN:   How  many  graduate  students  were  there  at  one 

SHEETS:   The  number  that  seemed  to  prevail  was  around 
forty-five,  which  was  a  large  group  for  a  small  college 
setup.   We  had  quite  a  problem  spacewise,  even  with  all 
of  our  buildings,  to  handle  the  two  programs.   But  one  of 
the  things  that  I  think  made  it  very  good  was  that  the 
excitement  of  the  graduate  work  that  was  going  on  was  so 
stimulating  to  the  undergraduates  as  well  as  to  the  staff 


that  it  made  a  tremendous  difference  in  the  undergraduate 
work.   It  just  moved  up  so  fast,  and  there  was  a  real 
excitement  through  the  whole  place.   You  just  felt  you 
couldn't  believe  it  could  happen,  but  it  did.   Our  summer 
sessions  were  very,  very  exciting.   We  did  attract  people 
from  all  over  the  country.   We  never  let  it  get  so  large 
or  out-of-hand,  but  we  put  it  on  almost  like  a  humanities 
concept.   It  was  a  six-week,  intensive,  full-time,  all-day 
course.   Everyone  in  the  summer  session,  regardless  of 
what  medium  they  chose  to  work  in,  sometimes  two  for  the 
summer,  went  to  an  eight  o'clock  lecture. 
GOODWIN:   In  the  summer? 
SHEETS:   In  the  summer. 
GOODWIN:   Up  and  at  'em.   [laughter] 

SHEETS:   Every  one  of  the  instructors — and  there  were 
generally  six  instructors  for  the  summer,  professors  of 
various  capacities  (sometimes  they  were  visiting  artists) — 
each  professor  was  expected  to  give  one  week  of  lectures 
in  his  field.   Every  student  was  required  to  take  all  of 
the  six  lectures,  five  days  a  week.   Then  they  had  a 
morning  session  of  three  hours,  in  one  medium  which  they 
chose,  and  all  afternoon,  three  hours  again  in  another 
medium.   Or  they  could  stay  straight  through  with  one ; 
it  didn't  matter.   But  the  result  is  that  that  whole 
group  always  felt  like  a  unit.   The  people  seemed  to 
respond  so  much  to  each  other,  and  everybody  was  interested 


in  other  people's  growth,  not  merely  the  idea  of  going  to 
courses  and  getting  units.   It  was  a  unified  experience. 
We  did  attract  some  marvelous  teachers--college  teachers, 
top  high  school  art  teachers — from  all  over  the  country, 
in  addition  to  students  who  came  then  to  continue  on  to 
get  their  degree.   So  it  was  a  good,  interesting  cross 
section  of  excitement  and  activity  in  the  country. 
GOODWIN:   Who  have  been  some  of  the  more  prominent  graduates 
of  Scripps? 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  think  of  David  Scott,  now  one  of  the 
directors  of  the  National  Gallery,  who  was  a  very  fine 
painter,  a  marvelous  young  art  historian.   After  he 
finished  at  Scripps,  he  went  to  Harvard  and  received  his 
doctor's  degree.   Then  he  came  back  to  Scripps  and  taught, 
and  then,  when  I  left  the  Scripps  department,  he  became 
the  head  of  the  department.   After  that  he  went  to  the 
Smithsonian  Institution  as  an  assistant  director  of 
American  art,  and  then  became  the  director.   Now  he  is 
at  the  National  Gallery  in  Washington.   Douglas  McClellan, 
who  is  head  of  the  art  department  at  the  University  of 
California  at  Santa  Cruz,  was  one  of  the  men  that  came 
in  on  the  cultural  test  side.   He  had  not  had  college 
background.   He  had  gone  to,  I  think,  Colorado  Springs 
School  of  Art  right  after  the  war  for  a  year,  and  then 
he  came,  studied  with  me,  and  with  our  staff  in  general. 
He  was  there  on  the  GI  Bill,  which  did  not  require  that 


he  take  this  for  a  degree.   We  kept  it  open,  I  might  say 
very  clearly,  for  people  that  had  talent.   We  were  as 
interested  in  that  as  we  were  at  the  thought  of  a  degree, 
certainly.   Then  he  chose  to  go  after  a  degree  and  took 
the  cultural  test,  which  they  said  was  the  highest  test 
ever  passed  by  an  outsider  in  any  field,  which  pleased  me 
always.   Then  after  David  Scott  retired  as  director,  he 
became  director  of  the  Scripps  art  department  and  then 
went  to  Santa  Cruz.   Well,  now  those  two  have  gone,  you 
might  say,  the  formal  route,  but  out  of  the  innumerable 
painters — I  would  have  to  get  a  list  together,  really — 
but  we  have  designers  in  architecture  and  ceramics  and 
weaving  and  tapestries  and  painting  and  sculpture, 
nationally  distributed. 

GOODWIN:   I  think  you  mentioned  there  were  some  Rome 
Prize  winners. 

SHEETS:   Yes,  well  that  was  an  interesting  story.   We  had 
a  young  man  by  the  name  of  Jack  Zajac,  of  whom  you  may 
have  heard.   Jack  Zajac  called  me  on  the  telephone  one 
morning,  and  he  said,  "I'm  Jack  Zajac,"  in  this  croaking 
voice.   I  said,  "Well,  fine."   He  said,  "I'm  working  in 
the  Fontana  steel  mills,  and  I'm  sixteen.   Somebody  told 
me  that  if  I  wanted  to  study  art,  I  should  call  you,  so 
I'm  calling  you."   So  I  said,  "Well,  Mr.  Zajac,  why  don't 
you  come  over,  and  let's  talk  about  it."   We  made  an 
appointment.   We  had  to  make  it  on  Saturday  or  Sunday. 


because  he  was  working.   His  father  had  been  killed  in  an 
accident,  and  he  was  taking  care  of  his  mother,  at  age 
sixteen.   He  was  about  six  feet  tall,  a  great  big  gangling 
kid,  and  he  brought  over  to  show  me  about  fifteen  enormous 
canvases.   I  think  the  smallest  was  3x4  feet,  and  from 
then  on  up  into  various  sizes.   Some  of  them  were  attempted 
copies  of  calendars.   Some  of  them  were  the  worst  subjects 
in  the  world,  done  without  any  real  knowledge,  but  with 
the  most  intense  feeling.   He  didn't  know  what  he  had.   He 
didn't  know  how  bad  it  was;  he  didn't  know  how  good  it  was. 
He  hadn't  the  vaguest  idea.   But  he  was  so  excited  about 
painting.   I  suggested  that  he  come  over  to  the  college 
whenever  he  could.   Was  it  possible  to  get  on  the  grave- 
yard shift  or  something  and  come  over  part  of  each  day? 
And  he  arranged  that.   He  went  on  the  graveyard  shift. 
He  never  knew  it,  but  I  paid  his  tuition,  because  I  knew 
he  couldn't  afford  it.   I  didn't  want  to  ask  the  college 
at  that  time  to  do  anything  about  it,  and  I  could  have 

very  easily. 

But  he  came  over  for  about  a  year,  and  in  one  year 
everyone  knew  we  had  a  real  artist  on  our  hands.   He  just 
bloomed.   After  one  year  of  going  to  classes,  which  he 
really  didn't  like — he  was  just  a  natural — we  gave  him  a 
room  with  one  other  student,  and  there  he  created  all  his 
material  that  won  him  the  Prix  de  Rome.   But  he  was  there 
in  the  middle  of  our  environment.   The  students  were  crazy 


about  him.   I  think  we  had  freedom.   We  had  some  latitude 
that  very  few  departments  would  have  in  being  able  to  do 
this  kind  of  thing,  and  do  it  with  the  college's  full 
knowledge  and  acceptance. 

It  was  while  he  was  in  his  third  year  there,  working 
very  hard — and  he  worked  unlimited  hours.   By  this  time  he 
had  even  stopped  working  in  the  steel  mill  and  was  selling 
paintings,  quite  handily,  enough  to  at  least  get  by  and 
take  care  of  his  mother,  which  is  a  pretty  remarkable  thing 
in  itself  at  nineteen.   I  remember  that  Paul  Manship,  the 
sculptor,  then  chairman  of  the  [American]  Academy  in  Rome, 
came  to  visit  Bert  Stewart,  and  I  showed  him  Jack's  work. 
He  took  one  look  at  it  and  said,  "I  think  he  should  apply 
for  the  Prix  de  Rome."   He  did,  and  he  won  it.   It  was 
just  one  of  those  nice  little  fluke  things  that  happen. 
He  happened  to  visit  at  the  right  time  and  I  don't  think 
any  of  us  would  have  thought  particularly  of  Jack  applying 
for  the  Rome  scholarship.   Well,  he  won  it  and,  of  course, 
has  had  a  great  history  ever  since.   He's  done  some 
exciting  things.   I  believe  he's  also  teaching  at  Santa 
Cruz  at  the  present  time,  part  time.   He  goes  to  Italy 
each  year  and  casts  his  bronzes. 

GOODWIN:   Did  he  actually  study  sculpture  at  Scripps? 
SHEETS:   Yes,  he  studied  with  Bert  Stewart,  as  he  studied 
painting  with  me.   But  he  was  a  complete  person  himself. 
He  was  very  thoughtful.   He  never  fought  a  teacher.   But 


on  the  other  hand,  he  didn't  pay  a  hell  of  a  lot  of  atten- 
tion to  the  teacher.   I've  been  very  proud  of  the  fact  that 
what  he  has  was  within  himself.   It's  the  quality  of  his 
mind  from  the  very  beginning.   He  did  learn  the  importance 
of  discipline,  and  he  did  work  very  hard.   I  used  to  go  in 
constantly  when  he  was  working  in  that  room  by  himself  and 
at  his  invitation  give  him  criticism  just  in  the  most  casual 
way.   He  was  very  thoughtful.   I  don't  remember  him  ever 
saying  he  agreed  or  that  he  disagreed,  but  he  went  right 
on  being  Jack  Zajac,  which  is  what  counted.   He  had  that 
capacity.   But  we've  had  so  many  people  that  are,  I  think, 
equally  distinguished  in  their  own  way.   Of  course,  Roger 
Kuntz ,  who  died  recently,  was  one  of  our  students.   I 
should  really  prepare  a  list.   I  should  have  done  that 
to  give  you  some  sense  of  who  these  people  were. 
GOODWIN:   Today  we're  more  conscious  of  women  in  art  or 
even  women  artists.   Were  there  many  women  graduate  students 
at  Scripps? 

SHEETS:   Yes,  we  had  a  very  good  percentage  of  women,  as 
a  matter  of  fact.   We  had,  I  would  say,  just  about  an  even 
number  of  men  and  women — not  by  choice,  but  just  by  the 
fact  that  we  had  some  marvelous  women  artists:   painters, 
teachers,  people  who  became  very  important  teachers, 
people  who  have  gone  into  every  design  field,  motion  pic- 
tures, architecture. 

We  taught  architecture  not  as  a  formal  course  at 


Scripps  in  the  graduate  school,  but  we  had  always  good 
architects  who  were  very  creative,  who  really  made 
architecture  very  much  alive.   Of  course,  I  insisted  that 
painters  and  sculptors  take  architecture  at  least  one  year 
to  have  some  sense  of  the  relationship  between  their  work 
and  architecture  for  their  future.   I  know  that  this  was 
a  very  important  thing.   I  can't  imagine  an  art  department 
without  a  required  course  in,  not  history  of  architecture-- 
we  gave  that  in  the  humanities,  of  course;  we  had  marvelous 
presentations  of  architecture  historically--but  applied 
courses,  where  they  really  became  involved  with  using 
materials  and  understanding  concepts  of  form  and  the  whole 
idea  of  function.   It's  essential.   It's  a  great  discipline 
just  as  a  discipline.   But  the  relationship  between  archi- 
tecture and  what  an  artist  needs  is  enormous.   I  think 
this  is  one  of  the  great  failings  of  so  many  art  schools-- 
and  many  universities  and  colleges,  too--that  they  just 
don't  push  the  necessity  of  understanding  the  relationship 
of  these  fields  as  you  practice  art. 

I  think  it's  exciting  to  say  that  people  like  Tom  Van 
Sant  was  one  of  our  students.   Tom  Van  Sant  went  to  Stanford 
for  three  years  and  came  down  mainly  because  he  was  a  very 
good  friend  of  mine,  and  his  family  and  I  had  been  connected 
for  a  long  time.   He  came  down  and  took  a  year,  which  he 
didn't  even  worry  about  as  far  as  credit  was  concerned, 
at  Pomona  College,  and  he  took  art  full  time.   Pomona  was 


very  decent  to  allow  him  to  do  this.   So  he  worked  extremely 
hard  that  year ,  and  he  took  sculpture .   He  worked  in 
painting  with  me.   He  took  design,  and  he  took  architecture. 
It  was  a  great  year.   Then  he  went  back  to  Stanford  the  next 
year  and  graduated,  got  his  regular  BA  degree,  and  then  came 
back  to  Otis,  and  he  was  one  of  the  first  two  MFA  students 
we  turned  out  at  Otis  Art  Institute.   But  the  fact  that  he 
did  get  that  start  at  Scripps  with  the  undergraduate  school, 
with  architecure,  has  affected  his  life.   He  now  is  involved 
in  everything  that  has  to  do  with  architecture.   He's  known 
internationally,  he's  worked  in  every  medium,  but  he's 
emphasized  sculpture  more  than  painting,  which  is  exciting. 
I  think  if  artists  have  a  chance  to  work  in  a  variety 
of  media  when  they're  in  school,  whether  it's  an  art  school 
or  a  college,  and  they  get  it  right  from  the  shoulder  of 
someone  that  really  knows — not  just  teaching  a  bunch  of 
art  theory — then  they  get  in  and  really  learn  disciplines. 
Very  often  a  student  grows  in  a  totally  different  direction 
than  he  thought  he  was  going  to  go  when  he  started  out. 
It's  a  fact  that  if  a  person  says,  "I'm  going  to  be  a 
painter,  and  I  don't  want  to  do  anything  else,"  that  often 
clouds  his  whole  future.   Because  if  he  just  would  get  in 
and  learn  the  whole  art  language,  it  means  not  only  more 
freedom,  but  perhaps  a  whole  new  world  opens  up  for  him. 
It  certainly  was  in  the  case  of  Tommy  Van  Sant.   I  think 
it's  a  case  certainly  in  Zajac.   He  started  out  not  wanting 


to  be  anything  but  a  painter.   Though  he  does  paint,  he 
certainly  is  known  primarily  as  a  sculptor. 
GOODWIN:   Was  there  a  Scripps  style? 

SHEETS:   I  don't  believe  so.   If  there  was  a  difference 
between  the  students  that  we  turned  out  and  maybe  the  prep 
students  from  other  institutions,  it  was  because  we  didn't 
really  turn  out  a  style.   We  emphasized  the  importance  of 
them  knowing  how  to  express  themselves,  with  also  the 
feeling  that  if  this  was  developed  during  their  formative 
years,  if  they  had  something  to  say,  they  could  say  it. 
We  didn't  try  to  turn  out  little  Picassos,  we  didn't  try 
to  turn  out  little  Matisses.   We  didn't  try  to  do  any  of 
these  things.   We  familiarized  them  thoroughly  with  every 
facet  of  art,  ancient  and  modern,  abstract  to  represen- 
tational.  We  certainly  presented  the  case  of  all  sides 
with  a  degree  of  integrity  and  excitement.   I  think  the 
fact  that  we  had  a  great  variety  of  students — some  working 
much  more  toward  the  abstract  or  seraiabstract ,  others  going 
more  toward  the  representational — was  a  thing  that  I  really 
liked  about  our  department.   It  was  not  a  single  can  job, 
where  they  came  out  in  one  direction.   I  think  that 
aesthetically  they  were  as  well  versed  as  any  students  at 
the  time.   Other  schools  were  primarily  bragging  about 
the  fact  that  they  were  giving  kids  such  a  high  intensity 
of  aesthetic  understanding,  but  I  think  you  understand  what 
I  mean.   So  many  times  out  of  our  schools  have  come  people 


who  have  a  certain  limited  taste,  and  they  don't  like  any- 
thing else.   They're  not  interested  in  anything  else. 
Unless  they  have  unusual  capacity,  it  isn't  easy  for  them 
to  become  really  successful  within  that  narrow  area. 

An  artist  needs  to  soak  up  and  get  the  kind  of  lan- 
guage discipline  that's  only  a  prerequisite.   It's  not  an 
end;  it's  a  means.   Because  the  talent  is  not  in  the  hand, 
it's  in  the  quality  of  mind.   If  they  have  that  sense  of 
insight  and  they  have  the  tools  with  which  to  express  it, 
they're  going  to  be  artists  in  their  own  right.   If  the 
level  of  the  quality  of  mind  is  average  or  below,  that's 
exactly  where  you're  going  to  end  up  with  in  the  artist. 
The  thing  that  was  thrilling  to  me  was  that  a  student  who 
didn't  ever  really  want  to  learn  sculpture  could  get 
inside  and,  with  a  fine  person  teaching  him,  not  just  do 
academic  realism  but  capture  the  real  meaning  of  structure 
and  the  real  meaning  of  design. 


DECEMBER  4,  1976 

SHEETS:   George,  one  of  the  things  I  believe  meant  a  great 
deal  at  Scripps  was — and  I  take  real  pride  in  this  because 
the  college  believed  in  what  I  was  trying  to  accomplish  in 
terms  of  preparing  a  different  kind  of  an  art  student — I 
was  able  to  bring  strictly  professional  people  in  as 
teachers.   I  protected  their  time  by  putting  all  of  their 
teaching  into  three  days,  never  allowing  any  other  inter- 
ruption, half -day  or  anything  else.   It  meant  very  often 
that  I  was  interrupted  in  protecting  them,  but  neverthe- 
less, it  was  one  of  the  best  things  that  could  have  happened 
because  it  allowed  each  one  of  these  people  to  do  many  out- 
side projects  as  well  as  their  own  creative  work,  without 
interruption.   I  think  that  the  nature  of  the  work  that 
they  brought  in  and  the  kind  of  commissions  they  were 
receiving  on  the  outside  meant  that  our  students  had  a 
slightly  different  look  at  art.   They  were  seeing  not 
only  what  was  going  on  in  the  classroom  and  what  the  man 
or  woman  believed  in  as  far  as  the  necessity  of  background, 
but  they  saw  the  application  outside.   In  many  instances, 
they  served  as  assistants.   Many  of  them,  after  they 
graduated,  went  right  into  various  studios  and  worked  for 
two  or  three  years  as  assistants  to  these  professional 
people.   In  this  sense,  Scripps  always  had  a  touch  and  a 


real  feeling,  a  connection  with  the  outside.   I  think  our 
students  have  reflected  that.   As  they  went  out  into  their 
own  professional  world,  they  didn't  feel  like  they  were 
going  into  a  foreign  world.   It  was  a  world  they  under- 
stood to  a  very  high  degree. 

Then  we  always  brought  in,  constantly,  top  people— 
for  sometimes  a  week,  sometimes  a  day— to  sit  down  and 
discuss  their  work  with  the  students.   These  were  not 
necessarily  academic  people.   They  were  people  who  had 
been  through  the  mill  but  who  we  respected  very  much  as 
creative  people  and  as  fine  artists  and  as  very  exciting 
craftsmen.   If  you  aren't  willing  to  get  the  most  exciting, 
even  totally  different,  opinion  from  the  outside  to  walk 
into  your  classroom,  there's  something  wrong.   We  had  a 
staff  that  I  can't  believe,  as  I  look  back  on  it,  having 
been  involved  with  other  institutions,  mainly  on  the  boards 
of  directors.   There  was  so  much  mutual  respect.   Though 
we  didn't  all  agree,  and  certainly  we  didn't  work  the  same 
way,  we  really  had  some  common  objectives  that  we  stuck  to. 
There  was  never  any  unpleasantness.   In  all  the  years  at 
Scripps,  there  was  just  none. 

GOODWIN:   I  wanted  to  ask  you  about  that,  because  you  seem 
like  a  very  positive  thinker. 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  am,  and  I  suppose  that's  true.   But  I 
will  also  say  that  I  did  not  try  to  impose  my  particular 
kind  of  thinking  on  my  staff.   I  was  very  careful  in 


selecting  them  to  be  sure  that  they  understood  what  the 
ground  rules  were.   The  ground  rules  were  very  clear  as 
I  saw  them.   They  had  to  be  damn  fine  artists,  they  had 
to  know  what  they  were  doing,  and  they  really  had  to  have 
the  desire  to  teach  everything  that  they  could  possibly 
teach  the  student  from  the  bottom  of  their  hearts.   This 
was  not  a  time-filling  salary  proposition.   This  was  some- 
thing that  they  had  to  have  the  desire  to  do,  and  I  can 
say  that  we  had  that  kind  of  teacher.   When  we  had  our 
monthly  staff  meetings,  there  was  real  camaraderie. 
Socially,  we  had  such  a  wonderful  time  together.   We  all 
lived  out  in  this  small  town,  Claremont.   Though  we  had 
plenty  of  connection  with  the  big  city,  we  had  a  complete 
life  of  our  own,  and  it  was  great.   Then  bringing  marvelous 
people  from  outside  constantly  was  really  an  exciting 
relationship.   We  liked  each  other. 

GOODWIN:   Well,  having  been  a  graduate  student  for  many 
years,  I  know  that  there  can  be  many  unpleasantries  in 
an  academic  situation.   Did  you  have  problems,  say,  with 
tenure  or  jealousies  among  faculty? 

SHEETS:   Minute  ones,  minute  ones,  but  I  think  that  those 
minute  problems  that  did  develop  were  problems  that  in 
the  light  of  the  overall  mutual  respect  disappeared.   Now, 
tenure  was  never  a  serious  problem  in  the  art  department. 
The  people  that  were  given  permanent  tenure  were  people 
who  were  so  vital  and  so  good  for  the  college  that  they 


weren't  the  kind  that  would  fall  back  and  sit  on  it.   I 
think  of  Albert  Stewart,  for  example,  a  man  who,  like  my- 
self, had  never  had  any  formal  education.   He  was  educated 
in  England,  where  he  was  born.   He  had,  I  suppose,  the 
usual  English  schoolboy  background,  although  he  didn't 
come  from  a  family  with  a  great  deal  of  wealth.   He  cer- 
tainly came  from  a  family  with  some  distinction.   His 
father  was  an  actor.   His  mother  died  when  he  was  young. 
When  he  came  to  the  United  States,  he  was  an  amateur  boxer 
and  wrestler,  and  he  was  very  much  interested  in  art.   He 
was  probably  eighteen  when  he  arrived.   Fortunately,  he 
fell  into  the  hands  of  the  man  we  mentioned,  the  sculptor 
Paul  Manship.   He  worked  as  an  apprentice  to  Paul  Manship 
for  a  great  many  years,  I  imagine  five  years.   Then  he 
became  really  an  associate  of  Manship' s.   He  executed  some 
great,  big,  important  commissions  of  his  own,  quite  apart 
from  Manship,  but  he  also  worked  with  Manship  on  some 
tremendous  projects.   He  knew  all  of  the  good  sculptors 
in  New  York,  and  he  was  a  remarkable  person  in  his  own 
right.   He  came  tc  Scripps,  and  it  was  a  totally  different 
experience.   As  a  matter  of  fact,  in  settling  a  divorce 
and  being  remarried,  he  was  very  glad  to  leave  New  York 
and  come  to  California  on  a  very,  very  low  salary  scale. 
It  was  in  the  Depression.   I  brought  Bert  here  in  1939, 
and  I  started  to  teach  in  '32,  so  he  came  very  early. 

Well,  I  think  probably  if  I  had  to  select  one  person 


out  of  the  entire  staff  that  gave  the  most  back  to  the 
college,  it  would  be  Albert  Stewart.   He  was  a  brilliant 
lecturer,  without  any  formal  education  or  any  formal 
experience  in  lecturing,  but  because  he  cared  so  much, 
felt  so  deeply  about  what  he  had  to  say,  and  with  a 
certain  English  reserve.   He  had  a  quality,  a  presence, 
that  was  exciting  and  very  moving.   He  was  a  marvelous 
sculpture  teacher  because  he  made  students,  right  off  the 
bat,  carve  stone,  carve  wood,  as  well  as  model,  and  draw, 
draw,  draw.   We  were  all  so  compatible  because  we  were  all 
saying  the  same  thing  to  the  student,  in  our  own  different 
ways.   I  kept  pounding  drawing;  I  kept  pounding  design;  I 
kept  pounding  working  with  materials.   So  did  Bert;  so  did 
[Jean]  Ames;  so  did  McFee  and  Phil  Dike.   Everyone  had  the 
same  kind  of  emphasis,  each  in  a  different  way.   So  the 
students  couldn't  escape  the  necessity  of  doing  work  out- 
side of  class  to  prepare  themselves  for  class— not  by 
merely  reading,  but  by  just  hellish  hard  work.   Well, 
Bert  I  think  probably  was  the  best  art  lecturer  we  ever 
had  in  humanities.   He  took  on  a  major  burden  with  delight, 
which  would  have  been  a  shock  to  believe  when  I  knew  him 
in  New  York—to  think  that  he  would  really  become  the  kind 
of  powerhouse  that  he  became.   He  had  a  great  sense  of 
history.   He  had  a  great  sense  of  the  interrelation  of 
things.   He  was  an  extraordinary  human  being.   I  think 
that  it's  the  strength  of  a  person  like  Bert  and  some  of 


the  rest  of  us  that  kept  us  from  having  these  small  ques- 
tions.  Bert  received  tenure  and  eventually  a  very  fine 
salary.   In  fact,  when  I  was  in  India  during  the  war,  he 
was  the  acting  head  of  the  department.   He  was  just  a  nice, 
wonderful,  strong  person.   We  didn't  really  have  many  of 
those  problems. 

GOODWIN:   Who  would  you  say  was  the  most  innovative  teacher? 
That  would  be  very  difficult  to  say,  but  in  terms  of  style, 
who  was  reaching  the  farthest?   In  terms  of  what  has  sub- 
sequently become  popular  and  recognized? 
SHEETS:   I  don't  think  that  anyone  reached  out  for  that 
deliberately.   I  think  it  was  a  matter  of  choice.   No  one 
inhibited  anyone's  attempt  in  any  direction  he  wanted  to 
go.   But  we  felt,  and  I  still  feel — if  anything  more 
strongly--that  the  reason  we  had  successful  students  who 
went  on  and  became  individuals  and  created  their  own 
individual  worlds  and  their  own  recognition  was  the  fact 
that  they  were  better  prepared  in  the  basic  skills,  which, 
I  said,  are  only  prerequisites.   You  don't  get  a  gold  medal 
for  knowing  how  to  paint.   Now,  if  you  add  to  that  the 
importance  of  orientation  in  the  world  of  art — call  it 
aesthetic  knowledge,  call  it  respect  for  the  meaning  of 
art  to  life,  call  it  anything  you  wish — if  you  can  develop 
this  in  a  student,  along  with  some  skills,  and  you  keep 
them  aware  of  the  exciting,  infinite  potential  of  the 
styles  that  are  yet  to  be  created,  created  in  spite  of 


the  fact  that  we've  had  an  incredible  several  thousand  years 
of  innovation,  you  don't  really  have  to  worry  about  being 
innovative.   An  artist  can  only  be  what  he's  capable  of. 
It's  impossible  to  hide  inability.   It's  impossible  to  hide 
ability.   You  don't  have  to  worry  about  your  own  style. 
Your  own  style  is  automatic  because  it's  a  result  of  who 
you  are  and  what  you  think.   You  may  try  very  hard  to  be 
like  something  else  or  to  be  innovative,  a  little  different 
than  you  think  you  are,  but  it  doesn't  work.   It  never  has 
worked,  and  it  never  will  work.   I've  heard  so  much  talk 
about  individuality  in  the  old  days  of  teaching.   I  don't 
think  you  hear  much  about  that  anymore. 
GOODWIN:   Today  it's  called  individual  differences. 
SHEETS:   Yes,  well,  individual  differences  is  what  you  and 
I  and  every  other  human  being  were  born  with,  and  there's 
not  a  thing  we  can  do  about  it.   I've  tried  to  look  better 
than  I  am  all  my  life.   It's  impossible.   Absolutely  impos- 
sible.  I've  tried  every  route  in  the  world  to  cover  up  my 
ignorance.   I've  tried  every  way  in  the  world  to  be  more 
something.   You  go  out  in  the  studio  in  the  morning  with 
the  greatest  zest  in  the  world  to  really  knock  out  some- 
thing that  is  going  to  be  just  really  there,  and  you  end 
up  by  being  you.   I  don't  care  how  hard  you  try  at  it  to 
be  different,  you  are  different.   You  can't  be  otherwise, 
because  you're  just  you. 

I'll  always  remember  that  one  example  of  that  critic 


in  Paris  who  reviewed  an  exhibition  of  twenty-five  paintings 
done  by  twenty-five  different  artists  of  portraits  of  the 
same  guy.   Now,  it  would  have  been  impossible  for  those 
guys  to  try  to  be  different.   They  were  different.   I've 
always  thought  of  it.   It's  probably  something  you've  never 
seen,  because  I  think  I  must  have  seen  that  catalog  thirty- 
five  years  ago.   It  was  terribly  exciting  to  see  what  Matisse 
did,  to  see  what  Picasso  did,  to  see  what  Braque  did,  just 
naming  some  of  the  headliners.   Then  you  go  on  down  into 
Derain  and  a  lot  of  the  others.   It  was  a  very  exciting 
exhibition.   Yet  you  knew,  in  every  instance,  that  they 
were  portraits  of  that  man.   Now  it's  not  only  seeing 
twenty-five  different  sides  of  a  person,  but  it's  accentu- 
ating twenty-five  different  qualities  of  that  person  to  a 
degree  that  that  became  the  style,  whatever  it  was  the 
artist  accentuated.   Maybe  it  was  the  color,  maybe  it  was 
the  basic  lines  of  the  structure,  maybe  it  was  the  tonality. 
It's  exciting  to  me  that  you  don't  need  to  strive  for  this. 
This  just  inevitably  is. 

GOODWIN:   I'm  not  personally  advocating  a  point  of  view 
here,  but  could  you  characterize  the  art  work  of  the 
faculty  by  saying  that  it  was  traditional  or  conservative 
or  representational? 

SHEETS:   I  wouldn't  say  that  it  was  conservative.   I  would 
say  that  it  was  representative,  yes,  more  representative 
certainly  than  abstract,  but  I  think  that  in  every  case — 


the  case  of  [Jean]  Ames,  Albert  Stewart,  Phil  Dike,  McFee , 
myself,  on  the  painting,  sculpture,  and  design  side;  then 
in  the  case  of  David  Scott  and  Doug  McClellan--we  were  all 
representational,  but  we  were  all  tremendously  concerned 
with  the  basic  design,  the  basic  abstract  arrangement: 
colorwise,  shapewise,  movement,  all  the  rest  of  it.   It 
was  a  case  of  not  saying,  "To  hell  with  representation; 
we  only  work  in  abstraction,"  but  it  was  saying,  "Any 
great  representational  art  from  the  history  of  time  had 
to  be  structurally  sound  from  an  abstract  point  of  view.'" 
So  to  sum  it  up,  we  were  representational,  but  we  certainly 
were  not  traditional  or  eye-copying  artists,  and  we  cer- 
tainly did  not  preach  that.   We  did  not  teach  people  to 
model,  to  draw  casts,  and  then  make  a  head.   We  taught 
the  structure  behind  everything.   That's  basically  where 
abstract  art  comes  from.   It's  the  sense  of  what  lies 
behind  the  surface.   And  we  were  that. 

First  of  all,  if  you're  talking  about  preparing  artists, 
the  fact  is  that  art  schools  were  a  new  idea,  oh,  maybe  a 
100  years  or  125  years  old.   It's  a  whole  new  idea.   Until 
that  time,  everybody  was  apprenticed.   Nobody  paid  any 
attention  about  what  was  abstract,  what  was  representational. 
A  kid  started  in  at  nine  or  ten  to,  I  suppose,  clean  brushes 
and  scrub  pots  and  that  kind  of  thing,  and  grew  up  in  a 
presence.   They  developed  a  state  of  mind,  and  they  developed 
a  sense  of  what  was  important  by  listening  and  by  having 


their  knuckles  rapped,  I  suppose.   They  had  to  do  the  menial 
things  first.   I  don't  think  things  have  changed  a  bit.   I 
mean,  I  don't  think  the  necessity  of  change  is  here.   I 
think  the  problem  is  that  we've  got  a  lot  of  people  who 
make  a  great  deal  out  of  mental  masturbation.   I  think  they 
get  too  involved  with  the  theories  of  art  and  the  defense 
of  their  state  of  mind  or  their  special  attitude  towards 
style.   It  just  isn't  necessary.   I  think  artists  should 
be  taught  just  like  a  pianist  has  to  be  taught. 
GOODWIN:   Fundamentals. 

SHEETS:   The  fundamental  thing  of  the  instrument.   In  music, 
it  doesn't  happen  like  it  happens  in  art.   Sure,  they  talk 
a  lot  about  modern  things — nuances  and  strange  dissoanances. 
I  understand  all  of  that,  and  I  love  all  of  that.   But  right 
back  to  the  point,  you  have  to  learn  the  instrument,  and 
there's  no  damn  way  of  getting  around  it.   No  way.   In 
painting,  I  think  it  should  be  the  same.   I  think  it  should 
be  the  same  in  architecture.   I  think  it  should  be  the  same 
in  every  one  of  these  different  graphic  or  applied  media. 
You  have  the  necessity  to  learn  how  to  become  free,  free 
to  express  you,  your  spirit,  what  you  care  about,  what  you 
know,  how  you  feel. 

Now,  to  conglomerate  a  kid's  head  with  all  this  stuff 
that  they  throw  at  them  from  the  time  they  get  into  junior 
high  school  about  style--and  yet  I  think  style  should  be 
taught,  but  to  say,  "This  is  the  way,  and  you  mustn't  learn 


how  to  do  anything  objectively  because  you're  going  to  be 
inhibited,"  I  think  it's  just  nonsensical,  and  it  doesn't 
agree  with  the  history  of  art.   I've  never  seen  an  artist 
in  the  world  who  was  inhibited  by  knowledge.   I  look  at 
the  drawings  of  the  great  masters,  ancient  or  modern.   I 
recognize  that  the  artist  knows,  has  a  tremendous  authority. 
Then  I  look  at  the  work  they  do,  and  I  see  that  where  it  is 
not  maybe  a  representational  painting,  this  drawing  is 
extremely  representational.   The  knowledge  back  of  it  is 
there,  hidden  in  the  most  subtle,  most  fantastic  way. 

I  just  am  against  what  I  think  is  generally  being  done, 
I'm  bitterly  against  it.   I'm  not  partially  against  it,  I'm 
bitterly  against  it--not  as  a  reactionary,  not  as  a  conser- 
vative, not  as  somebody  else.   But  if  you  know  anything 
about  the  history  of  art,  it  doesn't  work  this  way.   The 
reason  that  we  have  a  bunch  of  muddled  kids  coming  out  of 
schools  today  and  not  knowing  which  way  to  turn  and  not 
having  enough  opportunity  is  the  fact  they're  not  prepared 
to  face  life.   They're  not  prepared  to  become  a  part  of 
society.   They're  not  prepared  even  technically  to  do  a 
good  solid  job,  whether  it  be  of  illustrative  nature  or 
doing  murals  or  doing  anything  else.   A  doctorate  degree 
doesn't  mean  anything  and  a  master  of  fine  arts  degree 
doesn't  mean  anything  if  you  just  can't  get  up  on  a  wall 
and  work.   This  is  my  problem  of  finding  people  today. 
And  we  need  more  people  than  we  can  get  today  to  help  us 


in  the  projects  we're  working  on.  I  just  go  crazy  trying 
to  find  people,  because  this  whole  generation  hasn't  been 
taught  anything,  basically.  I'll  stand  on  that  in  front 
of  God  and  the  works,  including  all  the  universities  that 
are  preaching  this  hogwash,  as  far  as  I'm  concerned.  And 
a  great  many  teachers  are  doing  this. 

GOODWIN:   How  did  you  divide  your  time  at  Scripps  between 
administrative  duties  and  teaching? 

SHEETS:   I  lived  about  three  lives,  because  I  not  only  had 
administration  and  teaching  but  I  had  my  own  life,  which  I 
refused  to  give  up,  as  a  painter  and  as  a  designer.   All 
during  the  Scripps  years,  I  was  working  on  very  large 
murals,  I  was  working  on  buildings,  I  was  working  on  indus- 
trial design,  doing  illustrations  for  magazines,  and  doing 
paintings  for  airlines.   I  must  say  I've  been  busy.   Maybe 
I  didn't  amount  to  anything,  but  I've  been  busy  as  hell. 
You  can't  do  that  if  you  relax  and  say,  "Well,  I  will  teach 
and,  even  after  that,  administer."   I  wanted  to  do  both, 
full  time,  which  means  that  I  literally  haven't  had  what 
the  normal  person  has  had  in  the  way  of  a  normal  weekend. 
I  haven't  had  a  normal  life  at  all.   It's  been  partially 
unfair  to  my  family,  but  it's  been  the  life  that  I  chose. 
I  stayed  in  education  because  I  felt  terribly  excited  about 
it,  and  I  felt  that  artists  that  were  on  the  firing  line 
should  be  involved  in  education  and  not  always  leave  it  up 
to  the  guy  that's  just  theorizing  about  it  or  who  just 


plays  with  it  like  a  little  animal  over  here.   I  think  an 
artist  should  be  capable  of  really  conveying  to  others, 
to  helping  others  learn  the  things  that  they  know  will 
make  it  easier  for  them  to  become  personal,  creative  people. 
So  I  certainly  didn't  do  it  for  a  living.   I  didn't  do  it 
for  any  other  reason  than  that  I  believed  in  it,  although 
out  of  it  came  so  many  wonderful  things  to  me  in  the  way 
of  associations  and  experiences  that  I  never  would  have 
had  otherwise,  like  the  ones  with  the  Association  of 
American  Colleges,  where  I  lectured  year  after  year.   I 
was  released  by  my  college  to  go  to  areas  selected  by  the 
Association  of  American  Colleges  for  a  period  of  anywhere 
from  three  to  six  or  eight  weeks.   I  went  into  the  South, 
the  Southeast,  the  Middle  West,  and  the  East  on  various 
occasions,  lecturing  to  as  many  as  five  or  six  different 
colleges  on  each  trip.   Now,  this  was  not  an  ordinary  lec- 
ture tour.   It  was  a  case  where  I  was  invited  by  the 
Association  of  American  Colleges  to  go  to,  for  example, 
Tulane  University.   In  fact,  at  Tulane  I  gave  two  lectures, 
one  lecture  was  to  half  of  the  student  body,  and  the  second 
lecture  was  to  the  other  half.   Most  particularly,  I  did 
try  to  convey  what  I  felt  was  the  place  of  art  in  life. 
I  wasn't  there  to  give  them  some  little  technical  lecture 
on  the  history  of  some  period  but,  really,  my  philosophy 
of  how  I  believed  the  arts  are  important  ingredients  in 
everybody's  life,  and  that  if  you  learn  to  read  these 


languages,  you  gain  the  ability  to  enter  worlds  that  are 
otherwise  unenterable.   And  that  was  all  interesting.   But 
I  met  with  the  major  professors,  you  might  say  the  deans 
of  the  whole  school,  to  discuss  the  place  of  art  in  the 
total  university.   I  met  with  the  art  staff  to  discuss 
what  they  were  doing,  and  then  I  met  with  students  in  con- 
ference.  I  was  in  each  college  for  at  least  a  week,  and 
every  day  was  just  loaded  with  activity,  meeting  with 
people  and  working  with  them,  formally  and  informally. 
It  was  a  great  experience  for  me,  too,  because  I  saw  how 
differently  things  were  run  in  different  areas  and  how 
some  colleges  seemed  to  be  really  moving  into  marvelous 
areas  of  understanding  and  others  seemed  to  be  thwarted 
by  the  very  thing  we're  talking  about  here:   stylistic 
approaches  without  any  realization  of  even  the  excitement 
or  meaning  of  art.   I've  known  lots  of  people  who  know  a 
great  deal  about  art  but  don't  really  like  it.   I  don't 
think  this  leads  to  anything  important  in  art.   It's  got 
to  be  consuming  from  the  point  that  I  don't  think  you  can 
become  expressive  if  you're  an  artist  if  you  don't  have 
freedom  to  express  yourself — not  just  a  freedom  of  style, 
but  a  knowledge  of  how  to  absolutely  state  whatever  it  is 
that  you  have  in  your  mind. 

GOODWIN:   You  were  affiliated  with  the  Association  of 
American  Colleges  for  about  ten  years,  1938  to  '48? 
SHEETS:   Let's  see,  yes,  except  for  the  interval  of  years 


that  I  was  gone  to  the  war.   That's  true.   It  was  about 

ten  years. 

GOODWIN:   Who  were  some  other  people  who  served  a  similar 

function,  if  there  were  others? 

SHEETS:   I'm  sure  there  were  others.   I  don't  know.   I 

didn't  know  many  people  out  here  that  were  doing  that. 

I'm  sure  there  were  from  the  big  universities,  but  I 

wasn't  aware  enough  of  the  staff  to  be  able  to  say.   I 

used  to  meet  occasionally  people  from  eastern  colleges 

and  universities.   It  was  a  big,  major  plan,  and  I'm  sure 

there  were  many.   From  Scripps,  there  were  two  of  us  who 

did  this  fairly  regularly.   The  other  person  was  the  poet 

that  I  grew  up  with,  the  humorous  poet  at  Scripps,  Dick 

[Richard]  Armour.   Dick  Armour  and  I  went  to  kindergarten 

together.   When  we  finished  high  school,  he  went  East.   He 

went  in  the  navy.   I  did  other  things.   He  taught  in  the 

East  somewhere  near  Washington,  then  came  back  to  Scripps, 

which  was  a  great  reunion  for  us.   Dick  did  a  great  deal 

of  this. 

GOODWIN:   So  it  wasn't  only  in  the  arts? 

SHEETS:   No,  Dick  did  it  in  literature. 

GOODWIN:   It  sounds  today  like  the  traveling  Phi  Beta 

Kappa  lecturers,  who  have  a  base  at  one  university  but 

visit  several  others  as  guests. 

SHEETS:   It's  a  good  idea.   I  found  it  tremendously 

stimulating  to  me.   I  was  told  that  I  was  stimulating 


to  them,  but  I  can't  spedk  for  that,  except  that  they  seemed 
to  keep  wanting  me  to  do  it.   I  remeniber  that  I  used  to 
receive  wonderful  letters  from  the  Association  of  American 
Colleges  about  how  they  felt  about  my  trips.   But  quite 
apart  from  all  that  side  of  it,  I  gained  so  much  in  the 
way  of  excitement,  because  I  had  to  put  into  words  so  many 
feelings  that  I  wouldn't  have  done  if  I  had  just  stayed 
back  there  in  the  normal  slot.   In  putting  it  into  words, 
it  becomes  something  that  you  really  in  a  way  commit  your- 
self to,  and  I  found  it  just  tremendously  stimulating.   Of 
course  I  met  some  of  the  most  marvelous  people. 

I  met  Grant  Wood  when  I  went  back  to  Iowa  on  one  of 
those  trips,  and  it  was  a  marvelous  experience.   I  received 
a  letter  from  Grant  Wood  about  a  month  before  I  went  to 
Iowa.   They  had  a  booming  department  then.   They  had  a 
marvelous  graphics  department,  and  Grant  was  teaching 
painting.   They  had,  oh,  they  had  about  thirty-five  people 
on  the  staff.   It  was  a  marvelous  department.   They  did  do 
a  lot  of  teacher  preparation,  too,  but  it  was  very  alive. 
Wasn't  it  [Mauricio]  Lasansky,  the  guy  there  who  was  a 
great  etcher  and  graphic  man?   Of  course  he's  made  a  pro- 
found impact  upon  the  whole  graphic  medium  in  the  United 
States,  and  there  were  two  or  three  other  people.   I 
received  a  letter  from  Grant  Wood,  whose  work  I  had  known, 
but  I  had  never  met  him.   It  was  the  most  delightful  letter. 
I  never  read  a  more  interesting  letter.   He  said  that  he  was 


writing  because  he  knew  that  I  was  coming  to  the  university, 
and  he  wanted  me.   If,  after  reading  his  letter,  I  could 
stand  living  in  his  house,  he  wanted  me  to  stay  with  him. 
Then  he  described  the  most  intimate  details  of  the  house, 
the  people  in  it--and  there  were  about  six  or  seven  people, 
including  the  housekeeper — and  the  dogs  and  the  cats,  the 
whole  works,  and  it  was  just  so  charming.   Well,  of  course 
I  wrote  back  that  I  would  be  charmed,  first  to  meet  him  and 
secondly  to  have  the  privilege  of  being  in  his  home.   I  was 
met  at  the  airport  thirty  miles  away--you  can't  land  where 
the  university  is--by  his  man  secretary,  who  told  me  that 
Grant  was  in  the  hospital  and  had  had  a  terrible  cancer 
operation  when  he  wrote  the  letter  and  wasn't  going  to  be 
at  home.   But  he  hadn't  wanted  to  say  that  because  he 
thought  I  might  think  it  was  an  inconvenience  and  wouldn't 
stay,  but  that  we  would  be  seeing  him  in  the  hospital. 
Well,  it  was  really  one  of  the  most  charming  experiences. 
The  house  was  unbelievably  beautiful.   It  had  the  most 
marvelous  early  American  furniture.   It  was  an  exquisite 
house.   He  gave  me  his  room,  as  a  matter  of  fact,  and  then 
I  saw  him  many,  many  times  at  the  hospital  while  I  was 
there.   Then  later  we  became  much  closer  friends,  and  he 
visited  us  in  California  and  lectured  out  at  the  colleges 
and  so  forth.   Those  are  just  personal  things,  but  there 
were  so  many  things  like  that  that  happened.   I  made  per- 
sonal friendships  that  have  lasted  the  rest  of  my  life. 


from  many  people  that  I  met  on  these  tours. 
GOODWIN:   Were  there  some  other  colleges  that  you  remember 
as  being  particularly  active  and  enthusiastic? 
SHEETS:   Oh,  goodness,  the  University  of  Oklahoma  surprised 
the  devil  out  of  me.   I  was  just  amazed  at  how  much  was 
going  on  there.   It  was  very  exciting.   Southern  Methodist 
in  Texas,  and  Texas  A&M.   Of  course,  I  went  to  colleges  in 
the  Middle  West.   I  went  to  the  University  of  Minnesota, 
University  of  Illinois  (I  should  get  those  together  for 
you  and  tell  you  exactly,  because  off  of  the  top  of  my 
head  I  wouldn't  look  very  smart).  University  of  Arizona, 
University  of  New  Mexico.   I  went  to  several  Negro  univer- 
sities, and  I  thoroughly,  thoroughly  enjoyed  those  exper- 
iences.  I  went  to,  I  think,  three,  and  I  lived  in  each 
case  in  the  university  for  the  full  week  or  ten  days  and 
met  with  students  and  staff,  had  my  meals  with  them,  and 
was  so  excited  about  so  many  things  about  those  univer- 
sities that  were  quite  different. 

There  was  one  in  particular,  Xavier,  in  New  Orleans, 
which  was  a  Catholic  black  college.   They  did  not  have 
dormitory  facilities,  and  they  put  me  up  in  a  hotel  down- 
town.  Well,  the  first  man  I  met  was  a  father.  Father 
Murphy,  who  was  a  professor  of  philosophy.   He  also  was 
an  assistant  to  the  bishop,  the  number-one  assistant  to 
the  bishop  of  New  Orleans.   He  was  also  president  of  the 
New  Orleans  Drama  Society  and  Theater,  and  he  had  a  small 


Negro  parish  where  he  used  to  go  out  into  the  bayous  every 
Sunday  to  give  mass.   Well,  my  wife  was  traveling  with  me 
on  that  trip,  and  we  had  more  fun  with  Father  Murphy.   He 
said  that  he  wanted  us  to  really  see  New  Orleans,  and  he 
really  did  let  us  see  New  Orleans,  in  addition  to  all  the 
exciting  things  that  happened  in  the  school.   We  saw  the 
theater  from  the  inside,  we  went  to  the  greatest  places  to 
eat  every  night,  and  we  talked  till  all  hours.   The  man  had 
a  kind  of  a  universal  mind,  which  was  always  very  exciting 
when  you  run  into  such  people.   But  I  went  to  his  Shakespeare 
classes,  and  I  never  had  more  excitement  than  to  hear  these 
kids  read  Shakespeare,  with  these  great  eyes  and  the  excite- 
ment and  the  fire  that  they  had.   He  was  a  great  teacher, 
of  course,  but  the  students  themselves  gave  so  much  back. 
I  enjoyed  the  art  classes.   I  was  a  little  bit  concerned  in 
their  art  that  they  didn't  have  the  quality  of  teaching  they 
should  have  had,  and  they  were  a  little  inclined  towards 
edging  them  over  towards  making  posters  and  things  like 
that.   I  felt  that  if  they  had  better  teachers,  the  art 
department  would  have  perhaps  been  stronger.   But  I  thought 
that  the  students  themselves  just  naturally,  instinctively, 
had  a  great  deal  of  talent  that  I  thoroughly  enjoyed. 

I  went  to  another  Negro  university  outside  of  New 
Orleans.   I  think  it  was  a  southern  Methodist  university 
[Southern  University] ,  with  a  religious  background.   There 
I  met  some  of  the  most  exciting  people  I've  ever  met, 


including  one  woman  in  particular.   About  a  third  of  the 
staff  was  white,  about  two-thirds  was  black,  and  this  young 
woman  was  one  of  the  most  beautiful  women  I've  ever  seen  in 
my  life.   She  had  bright  red  hair,  a  beautiful  red-headed 
girl,  and  she  was  one  of  the  finest  pianists  I've  ever 
listened  to.   She  was  doing  concerts  all  over  the  South, 
as  well  as  teaching  music  there,  and  I  took  it  for  granted 
that  she  was  white.   I  think  it  was  the  last  night  that  we 
were  there  I  was  talking  with  her  at  dinner  about  the  fact 
that  I  thought  it  was  so  wonderful  that  she  was  giving  her 
time  to  this  kind  of  a  university.   She  looked  at  me  rather 
puzzled  and  said,  "Well,  do  you  think  I'm  white?"   And  I 
said,  "I  presumed  you  were."   She  said,  "Well,  I'm  not. 
My  father  is  president  of  Tuskegee  [Institute] .   As  a 
matter  of  fact,  he's  very  dark."   But  she  said,  "My  mother 
was  French,  and  I've  inherited  all  my  mother's  facial 
characteristics  and  color."   She  said,  "I'm  half-Negro." 
She  was  a  charming  person,  but  the  whole  experience  there 
was  wonderful.   It  was  great.   I  met  with  the  athletic 
department.   I  met  with  every  department.   Who  was  the  guy 
that  won  the  big  things  in  the  '32  Olympics  here? 
GOODWIN:   Jesse  Owens? 

SHEETS:   Yeah,  he  was  the  coach.   These  were  experiences 
I'll  just  never  forget.   In  fact,  I'll  not  name  the  college, 
but  I  went  directly  to  Texas  after  I  left  this  particular 
university.   I  was  at  a  dinner  party — not  at  the  president's 


house,  but  there  were  several  staff  members  present.   I 
waxed  enthusiastic  about  the  last  college.   They  asked  me 
where  I  had  been,  and  I  started  to  tell  them  the  different 
colleges  that  I  traveled  to,  and  I  said,  "The  last  one  was 
probably  one  of  the  most  exciting."   Maybe  I  shouldn't  put 
this  on  this  tape.   One  of  the  people  said,  "Well,  where 
is  it?"   I  told  him.   They  bristled.   The  entire  table 
bristled.   Of  course  this  was  a  long  time  ago.   We're 
talking  about  a  totally  different  climate  than  today. 
When  I  really  laid  it  on  the  line  that  it  was  a  Negro 
college,  one  gentleman — or  not  gentleman — one  man  said, 
"Well,  I  think  you're  a  traitor  to  your  race."   I  said, 
"I'm  sure  you  don't  mean  that."   He  said,  "Well,  I  do  mean 
it,  and  I  don't  think  you  have  any  business  to  give  your 
talent  and  ability  and  so  forth  to  such  a  situation."   My 
wife  and  I  left  the  dinner  table.   But  that  was  the  only 
unpleasant  thing  that  ever  happened  on  any  of  those  trips. 
That  wouldn't  happen,  there's  no  way  it  could  happen  today, 
but  it  was  typical  of  the  climate  in  those  days. 
GOODWIN:   Why  did  you  finally  end  your  affiliation  with 
the  Association  of  American  Colleges? 

SHEETS:   I  just  became  too  busy.   They  continued  to  ask 
me,  but  I  reached  a  point  where  I  had  so  much  work  that 
I  couldn't  go.   It  wasn't  just  a  matter  of  leaving  the 
college.   I  was  leaving  big  murals  and  all  sorts  of  other 
things,  plus  preparing  exhibitions,  because  I  did  keep  my 


painting  going.   Although  it  was  difficult,  very  difficult 
at  times,  I  never  let  it  get  away  from  me.   I  would  take 
trips  as  often  or  as  long  as  I  could.   It  was  really  living 
a  triple  life. 

GOODWIN:   There  was  one  other  item  about  Scripps  I  wanted 
to  discuss,  so  we'll  backtrack  a  moment.   That  is  the  various 
art  works,  murals  and  so  on,  that  were  commissioned  for  the 
college  and  what  role  you  might  have  played.   I'm  thinking 
of  the  Alfred  Ramos  Martinez  mural  in  particular. 
SHEETS:   Yes.   Well,  Martinez  was  a  man  that  I  loved  so 
deeply.   As  you  know,  he  came  to  this  country  because  of 
his  daughter,  who  needed  a  series  of  something  like  sixteen 
operations.   He  left  his  beloved  country.   He  had  a  passion 
about  Mexico  that  few  people  have  about  their  own  country, 
but  he  had  to  live  here  his  whole  life  because  of  this 
daughter  who  was  born  quite  late  in  his  life.   He  had  done 
a  few  murals  here  and  there,  a  beautiful  one  in  Ventura  and 
one  down  in  La  Jolla,  but  there  were  only  two  or  three.   I 
always  thought  that  it  would  be  marvelous  to  have  him  do  a 
garden  at  Scripps.   Finally  we  worked  it  out,  and  I  got  the 
money  to  have  him  do  it.   Tragically,  he  died  in  the  middle 
of  that  job  from  pneumonia,  which  was  a  result  of  the  cold 
he  caught  during  the  painting.   So  I've  always  had  a  very 
double  feeling  about  the  thing.   One  is  a  great  appreciation 
of  the  fact  thit  we  had  him  do  it,  and  I'm  happy  to  say  that 
they  are  preserving  it  now,  for  the  first  time  properly. 


Only  part  of  it  is  in  finished  fresco.   Part  of  it  is  tem- 
pera underpainting  as  the  guideline,  and  part  of  it  was 
just  a  few  lines  drawn  on  the  concrete  wall.   [phone  rings; 
tape  recorder  turned  off]   He  was  such  a  wonderful  little 
man.   He  had  so  much  vitality,  and  of  course,  he  worked 
completely  from  the  heart.   He  had  made,  I'm  sure,  hundreds 
and  hundreds  of  drawings  in  Mexico  in  his  early  days,  and 
he  had  good  training  in  France.   But  he  would  simply  stand 
back  with  a  long  bamboo  pole  with  a  piece  of  charcoal  stuck 
on  the  end  of  it.   He  had  very  feeble  hands  at  that  time  of 
his  life,  but  he  would  hold  the  two  hands  together  and  he 
would  draw  these  beautiful  images.   He  hardly  ever  changed 
the  line,  standing  back  about  ten  feet.   It  was  a  marvel 
to  watch  him,  which  goes  back  to  what  we  were  saying,  this 
thing  of,  "If  you  see  it,  if  you  understand  it,  then  you 
can  state  it,"  and  he  did  it.   But  it's  a  beautiful  garden, 
and  it's  a  lovely  mural. 

GOODWIN:   Where  did  the  funds  come  from? 
SHEETS:   The  [Fine  Arts]  Foundation  agreed  to  raise  the 
money,  and  it  was  raised  very  quickly.   We  all  gave  money 
to  it,  and  it  was  no  problem  at  all. 

GOODWIN:   Of  course,  the  Orozco  mural  was  painted  before. 
SHEETS:   The  Orozco  mural  was  painted  two  years  before  I 
went  to  Scripps.   It  was  painted  at  Pomona  [College] . 
It's  an  incredible  painting.   Have  you  ever  seen  it? 
GOODWIN:   Yeah,  through  the  door.   I've  never  stood  in 
front  of  it. 


SHEETS:   Through  a  crack  in  the  door.   Oh,  what  a  shame. 
Well,  you'd  be  interested  in  the  story,  and  I  think  it's 
safe  to  tell  it  now.   There  was  a  professor  by  the  name  of 
Pijuan  [Jose  Pijuan  y  Soteras] .   He  was  an  art  historian, 
who  had  written  many  books,  and  he  was  teaching  art  history 
at  Pomona  at  the  time.   When  he  saw  this  huge  dining  room 
being  built,  he  said,  "I  know  the  man  who  should  decorate 
it."   Without  discussing  it  with  anyone,  he  went  to  Mexico 
and  promised  Orozco  that  he  could  do  this  whole  enormous 
room  and  that  he  would  raise  the  money  for  it.   He  came 
back  and  told  the  college  that  he  wanted  him  to  paint 
underneath  that  arch  in  the  dining  room.   He  said  that 
he  would  raise  the  money  for  it.   Well,  Orozco  got  up  here 
in  good  faith  and  painted  it,  and  there  never  had  been  any 
money  raised.   Pijuan  had  hever  really  gone  out  to  do  it 
properly.   He  just  had  such  a  desire  to  have  it  done  that 
it  didn't  become  realistic  to  him— I  mean  the  actual  pro- 
cedure.  So  he  prevailed  upon  the  contractor  who  put  up 
all  the  plaster  and  all  that  end  of  it  to  give  that,  and 
then  he  did  talk  a  certain  number  of  people  out  of  enough 
money  to  pay  just  a  small  pittance  of  what  he  agreed  to 
pay  Orozco,  but  assured  him  that  that  was  all  right  because 
it  would  all  come  when  he  did  the  rest  of  the  building  and 
so  forth.   Well,  there  was  so  much  controversy  about  the 
mural  that  the  college  president  at  that  time  said,  "Well, 
we're  just  not  going  to  do  any  more."   It  was  really  a 


ridiculous  thing.   In  fact,  I  hate  to  even  admit  this, 
but  when  I  was  at  Scripps,  after  I  had  been  there  for 
about  two  years,  there  was  a  strong,  strong  movement  to 
paint  that  mural  out. 

GOODWIN:   Was  it  because  of  his  political  views? 
SHEETS:   No,  not  really.   I  don't  think  you  could  accuse 
this  of  having  any  political  meaning  of  Prometheus  as  a 
symbol.   It's  not  very  political.   Although  Orozco  was 
doing  huge  things  in  Mexico,  he  never  had  been  an  avid 
communist  like  some  of  the  others,  but  he  had  strong  social 
feelings.   I  think  it  was  because  people  just  didn't  under- 
stand it.   It  was  so  powerful,  and  it  was  so  unlike  what 
people  were  accustomed  to. 


DECEMBER  4,  1976  and  DECEMBER  10,  1976 

GOODWIN:   We  were  discussing  the  Orozco  mural  at  Pomona 

SHEETS:   Yes.   It's  such  a  beautiful  mural,  and  it  has 
attracted  so  much  attention,  but  in  the  early  days  it  was 
something  of  a  shock  to  people  who  had  little  or  no  back- 
ground in  the  art  of  mural  painting  or  even  art.   I  remember 
one  evening  it  was  my  pleasure  to  introduce  Walt  Disney  to 
a  very  distinguished  group  of  people  who  were  gathered  in 
the  dining  room.   It  was  in  connection  with  an  award  that 
he  was  given,  and  the  room  was  filled  with  some  of  the  most 
interesting  people  in  Southern  California.   Up  on  the  plat- 
form were  several  distinguished  people  and  what  not  to  make 
the  award.   I  was  sitting  next  to  the  president  of  the 
college.   At  dinner  he  turned--and  he  had  to  turn  completely 
around  to  look  at  the  mural — and  he  said,  "I  don't  know 
when  we're  going  to  get  that  thing  out  of  here."   He  was 
a  great  friend  of  mine,  but  he  certainly  had  a  blind  spot 
in  the  field  of  art.   I  said,  "Mr.  President,  I'm  sorry  to 
have  to  say  this  to  you  but,"  I  said,  "long  after  you  and 
four  college  presidents  are  gone  and  forgotten,  people  will 
be  coming  here  to  look  at  this  Prometheus  by  Orozco."   I 
said,  "They'll  come  from  all  over  the  world,  because  it's 
one  of  the  world's  finest  paintings  of  this  period.   I 


think  you  should  be  very  grateful,  and  I  hope  that  you 
really  will  not  think  seriously  ever  of  any  of  these  move- 
ments that  have  taken  place  to  remove  this  mural."   I  think 
it  came  at  the  right  time,  and  I  think  it  did  some  good, 
because  I  never  heard  anything  more  about  that  possibility. 
But  there  had  been  threats  up  to  that  time  of  actually 
painting  out  that  mural . 

GOODWIN:   Is  there  any  way  to  measure  the  impact  that  the 
mural  might  have  had  on  art  students? 

SHEETS:   It  had  a  great  impact  on  art  students,  and  I 
presume  it's  had  an  impact  upon  the  other  students.   It's 
in  the  men's  dining  room,  and  some  of  the  original  com- 
plaints I  heard  were,  "Well,  you  can't  face  that  bloody 
thing  every  day."   Well,  of  course  the  students  didn't 
face  it  every  day.   The  tables  were  set  at  such  an  angle 
that  when  the  students  sat  down  and  faced  each  other  across 
the  table,  they  were  looking  sideways,  not  toward  the  mural 
I  know  that  that  was  greatly  scoffed  at  by  the  students 
themselves,  who  said  this  is  no  bloody  thing  we  face  every 
day— it's  a  dramatic  thing.   I  think  by  the  time  the 
student  had  been  through  four  years  of  Pomona  College, 
they  had  a  very  different  feeling  about  that  mural  than 
they  did  when  they  went  in.   I'm  sure  that  it  meant  some- 
thing to  them.   Maybe  they  didn't  understand  it,  maybe 
they  couldn't  comprehend— even  didn't  give  a  damn  about— 
the  meaning  of  the  theme,  but  I'm  sure  that  they  came  away 


with  the  sense  of  an  experience.   I  don't  think  there's 
any  question.   And  that  certainly  prompted  the  people  to 
sponsor  the  beautiful  thing  that  [Rico]  Lebrun  did.   Have 
you  seen  that? 
GOODWIN:   Oh,  yes. 

SHEETS:   Lebrun  did  a  decoration  which  was  a  tremendously 
exciting  thing.   Again,  it's  not  the  kind  of  thing  that 
the  public  quickly  grasps  and  understands  and  perhaps 
doesn't  even  like  in  some  instances,  but  it's  a  great 
thing  to  have  those  two  murals  there  in  that  male  dormi- 
tory.  I  think  the  colleges  are  exceedingly  proud  today 
that  they're  there. 

GOODWIN:   Were  you  in  any  way  involved  with  getting  the 
Lebrun  mural? 

SHEETS:   No,  I  had  nothing  to  do  with  it.   I  was  so 
thrilled  when  I  heard  that  he  was  coming.   In  fact,  he 
called  me  one  day  and  said  that  "I'm  going  to  do  a  mural 
up  there."   And  I  was  just  terribly  excited.   Unfortunately, 
he  did  it  at  a  time  that  I  was  away  on  a  sabbatical.   It's 
a  beautiful  painting.   I  love  it. 

GOODWIN:   What  is  your  own  orientation  toward  Mexican 
painting  of  the  twentieth  century? 

SHEETS:   Well,  I've  always  been  more  than  excited,  just 
tremendously  moved  by  it.   I  knew  most  of  the  painters. 
I  knew  Rivera,  I  knew  him  slightly,  and  I  knew  Orozco 
slightly.   I've  met  [Rufino]  Tamayo  on  a  few  occasions, 


and  I've  known  a  great  many  of  the  sculptors.   I  think  of 
the  incredible  beauty  of  some  of  those  early  frescoes  in 
Mexico.   I  think  particularly  of  Rivera's  paintings  in 
the  National  [Ministry]  of  Education,  which  too  few 
people  know  about  and  too  few  people  ever  see  when  they 
go  to  Mexico.   They  look  at  the  late  things  that  he  did 
in  the  great  palace  [Mexican  Government  Building] .   They 
are  obviously  very  descriptive  and  exceedingly  well  painted, 
but  they  haven't  anything  like  the  spirit  and  art  that  the 
earlier  things  mean  to  me.   They  just  aren't  to  be  compared 
with  the  earlier  things.   Now,  the  Palace  of  Education  has 
a  series  of — if  I'm  correct,  I  think  there  are  four  major 
courtyards.   You  go  through  a  main  entrance  to  an  area 
where  tourists  would  never  go.   In  fact,  I  had  a  hard  time 
getting  a  cab  to  take  me  the  last  time  I  went  there  to  show 
my  son  these  murals.   You  go  into  a  series  of  four  enormous 
courtyards,  and  around  all  four  walls  of  each  courtyard  are 
paintings  that  are  approximately  twenty-two  to  twenty-three 
feet  high.   The  figures  are  very  large--most  of  them  are 
ten,  twelve,  fourteen  feet  high — in  color  that  you  would 
hardly  believe  a  man  could  get  out  of  fresco  painting: 
brilliant,  exciting,  wonderful  color,  robust  and  strong 
and  very  powerful.   Some  of  them  are  exceedingly  strong 
in  their  almost  brutal  commentary  against  in  some  instances 
the  church,  in  some  instances  the  politicians,  the  govern- 
ment.  Here's  another  situation  where  these  are  incredibly 


valuable  yet  they've  been  water-stained;  they've  not  been 
protected  as  they  should  have  been.   They're  going  to  be 
there,  and  they're  magnificent  even  in  the  state  that 
they're  in,  but  every  time  I  see  them  I  feel  terrible 
that  someone  in  Mexico  doesn't  strongly  move  to  see  that 
these  things  are  better  preserved.   They're  magnificent. 
I  think  the  ones  that  he  did  in  the  Cortez  Palace  in 
Cuernavaca  are  a  little  quieter,  a  little  more  subtle, 
but  they're  quite  beautiful.   They  are  of  that  same  early 
style.   Later  on,  he  became  much  more  literal  and  less 
imaginative,  I  think,  or  became  so  concerned  with  history 
itself  that  it  sort  of  outrode  his  sense  of  the  design  of 
it.   I  think  Mexico  has  had  a  great  importance  in  art  of 
the  twentieth  century,  a  great  importance  because  it  came 
from  inside.   It  was  not  a  cloak  that  they  put  on.   I  like 
so  many  of  their  graphics,  and  they  have  sculptors  who  are 
really  superior  sculptors  in  the  sense  that  they're  not 
just  involved  in  little  aesthetic,  ticklish  things. 
They're  doing  things  that  they  really  care  about. 
GOODWIN:   Are  there  parallels  between  your  work  and  the 
Mexican  muralists,  for  example? 

SHEETS:   I  wouldn't  say  so.   I  think  that  if  I  had  a  cause 
that  was  as  strong  as  they  had  in  the  revolution,  I  think 
it  might  have  improved  my  work.   I  think  that  the  absolute 
dedication  that  they  must  have  had  in  a  very  critical  part 
of  the  war  was  not  unlike  the  ancient  days  of  Greece,  when 


the  artists  were  involved  with  the  actual  fights  in  the 
wars  themselves.   These  people  were  very  involved.   I 
persuaded  Siqueiros  on  his  first  trip  to  California  to 
teach  a  fresco  class. 
GOODWIN:   Where? 

SHEETS:   In  Los  Angeles  at  Chouinard.   Then  he  did  the 
thing,  down  at  the  old  Mexican  plaza  [Olvera  Street], 
which  was  painted  out.   He  did  a  very  beautiful  painting 
at  Chouinard,  which  unfortunately  just  deteriorated  be- 
cause he  tried  for  the  first  time  the  air  brush.   The  air 
brush  gave  a  marvelous  quality--it  was  a  stunning  mural — 
but  it  didn't  work  in  fresco  painting.   It  did  not  pene- 
trate; it  was  too  wet.   Whereas  in  real  fresco,  when  you 
pull  a  brush  across  a  dry  plaster--not  dry  in  the  sense 
that  it's  dried  out,  but  not  a  wet  plaster — there's  an 
actual  sucking  sound  that  you  can  hear  as  paint  goes 
right  into  the  plaster.   It  penetrates  to  a  degree.   But 
when  he  shot  this  on  with  an  air  brush,  he  got  some  very 
exciting  effects,  very  strong.   They  were  very  character- 
istic of  the  kind  of  form  he  liked,  because  he  used  an 
air  brush  on  a  lot  of  his  easel  paintings.   It  didn't 
last.   The  water  and  time  and  rain  and  sun  just  slowly 
ate  it  away,  and  it  finally  just  disintegrated  so  much 
that  they  took  it  off — not  because  it  was  anti-anything , 
it  was  just  because  it  deteriorated.   None  of  us  knew 
what  he  was  going  to  do.   It  was  like  the  one  he  painted 


down  in  the  plaza.   He  had  all  of  his  side  people  coming 
in  toward  the  center,  and  it  wasn't  until  he  got  to  the 
very  end  that  he  had  this  ant i -American  central  theme. 
He  was  a  little  bit  the  same  way  with  the  workmen  in  the 
mural  at  Chouinard.   He  had  all  the  workmen  that  just 
looked  like  guys  working  on  scaffolds  and  doing  a  good 
job,  until  we  finally  all  discovered  that  they  were 
listening  to  this  rabble-rouser.   It  was  characteristic, 
but  he  was  a  very  powerful  man. 

GOODWIN:   I'm  wondering  whether  Mexican  art  or  art  of 
Central  and  South  America  has  had  a  very  pervasive  impact 
on  California  art,  considering  the  proximity  of  California 
SHEETS:   I'm  afraid  not,  to  the  degree  that  perhaps  it 
would  have  been  better.   I'm  sure  that  an  artist  like  Ben 
Shahn  was  profoundly  affected  by  Mexican  art.   I'm  sure 
of  that,  not  ever  having  heard  him  say  so.   But  I  think 
that  Ben  Shahn  was  a  tremendously  creative  artist  in  his 
own  right.   I  think  the  work  of  the  Mexican  artists  prob- 
ably were  a  greater  influence  than  any  other  single  group 
of  artists  might  of  been,  if  he  had  an  influence.   His 
dedication  to  social  problems  and  to  mankind  were  pro- 
found.  We  [Scott  Foundation]  just  bought  a  fantastic  Ben 
Shahn  for  this  collection.   I  think  it's  one  of  the  most 
beautiful  Ben  Shahns  I've  ever  seen.   It's  a  painting  of 
three  men,  a  large  painting  about  forty  inches  high.   For 
him,  it's  a  large  painting.   It's  called  Anger .   Instead 


of  it  being  three  guys  just  clenching  fists  at  each  other, 
just  in  the  subtle  series  of  lines  in  their  faces  and  one 
hand  you  get  a  very  powerful  impression,  which  is  so  like 
so  many  of  the  early  Tamayos  and  so  much  like  some  of  the 
early  drawings  of  Rivera  and  Orozco,  that  I  think  there  is 
a  relationship.   But  I  think  California,  unfortunately, 
hasn't  felt  that. 

GOODWIN:   In  a  way  California — or  Southern  California  in 
particular — seems  somewhat  impervious  to  that  kind  of 
foreign  influence.   It  would  seem  that  it  might  be  more 
natural  that  it  occurred,  and  in  fact  it  doesn't  appear 
to  have  occurred. 

SHEETS:   No,  I  don't  think  it  has  occurred,  I  really 
don't.   Southern  California  is  a  strange  place,  because 
when  I  grew  up  here  there  were  so  few  artists,  relatively 
speaking,  and  then  suddenly--by  suddenly,  I  guess  I  should 
restrict  that  and  say  mainly  after  the  war--we  have  simply 
had  the  world  flow  in  on  top.   There  haven't  been  too  many 
artists  here  that  have  much  of  a  California  root  system. 
They've  brought  a  lot  of  very  exciting  ability  and  talent 
and  feeling  from  other  places,  but  I  wouldn't  say  that 
there's  been  much  indigenous  sense  of  things  here  at  all. 
When  I  grew  up,  there  was  a  California  eucalyptus  school, 
which  had  a  very  pleasant  kind  of  competence,  but  it  had 
nothing  to  do  with  the  social  order  or  with  humanity  par- 
ticularly.  It  had  lovely  pink  lights  on  the  hills  in  the 


afternoon,  and  eucalyptus  trees  were  very  fluffy  and 
willowy  and  beautiful.   A  few  people  painted  the  sea, 
and  they  did  just  little  California  landscapes.   I  grew 
up  in  that  atmosphere,  and  it  really  wasn't  until  much 
later  that  people  like  Lebrun  and  others  came  in  and  had 
a  force  that  added  something  quite  different  to  what  was 
here.   Of  course,  now  it's  as  universal  as  can  be.   It 
could  be  Paris  or  New  York  or  anyplace  else.   There's 
not  much  of  a  special  indigenous  quality. 
GOODWIN:   There's  nothing  typically  Calif ornian  today. 
SHEETS:   I  don't  think  so  now.   I  don't  think  there  are 
many  artists  who  are  even  painting  the  country  particu- 
larly.  Maybe  I'm  one  of  the  few  that  sticks  with  it, 
because  I  still  love  it.   It's  my  place  where  I  grew  up. 
I  hope  I'm  not  doing  just  pink,  fluffy  eucalyptus  trees, 
but  I'm  doing  the  things  that  I  like.   Of  course,  I  love 
Mexico  so  passionately  that  I  go  down  there  a  great  deal 
to  paint,  and  Mexican  painting  isn't  the  kind  that  you 
travel  with.   It's  what  you  do  where  you  are. 
GOODWIN:   Were  there  any  other  large  commissions  by  out- 
side artists  at  the  Claremont  Colleges  that  we've 


SHEETS:   Not  by  outside  artists,  no.   In  fact,  I  think 
the  only  other  mural  at  Claremont  is  the  one  that  I  did 
on  the  theater.   I  designed  the  theater,  and  I  gave  a 
huge  mosaic,  three  episodes  of  Shakespeare. 


GOODWIN:   Oh,  yes,  the  Garrison  Theatre. 

SHEETS:  The  Garrison  Theatre,  I  designed  the  theater,  and 
I  gave  that.  I  think  that's  the  only  other  mural  there  in 
Claremont,  actually. 

GOODWIN:   You  built  a  home  in  Claremont? 
SHEETS:   I  built  two  homes  in  Claremont. 
GOODWIN:   Well,  we've  mentioned  your  first  home. 
SHEETS:   The  second  one  was  up  at  Padua  Hills,  which  is 
three  miles  north  of  the  town  and  the  colleges.   It  was  a 
beautiful  area  up  there  in  the  toe  of  the  foothills,  and 
I  built  our  home  there.   First  I  built  a  stable,  and  then 
I  built  a  house,  then  I  built  a  studio.   That  was  a  great 
experience.   I  built  a  rammed-earth  house.   When  I  was 
designing  air  schools  for  the  air  force,  we  were  running 
out  of  materials  everywhere  in  the  early  part  of  the  war. 
I  had  done  a  lot  of  reading  about  rammed  earth,  so  I  tried 
to  persuade  the  army  engineers  to  let  me  build  some  rammed- 
earth  houses.   I  had  concepts  of  prefabricated  forms  which 
could  be  put  up  if  the  soil  was  right  and  had  the  right 
amount  of  clay  and  sand  and  so  forth.   We  could  eliminate 
wood  and  mortar  and  everything  else  and  build  these  rammed- 
earth  houses  or  buildings.   Well,  they  were  very,  very 
reticent  about  it,  so  I  decided  to  build  one  to  prove  it 
could  be  done.   I  built  a  very  large  house,  as  a  matter 
of  fact,  with  walls  eighteen  feet  high,  and  thick,  beautiful, 
big  walls,  and  very  gutsy  fenestration.   After  I  had  it  all 


up,  the  [Los  Angeles]  County  and  building  department  was 
so  concerned  for  fear  it  might  fall  down  in  an  earthquake — 
which  I'm  sure  it  wouldn't  have — they  practically  said  I 
had  to  take  it  down.   Well,  I  assured  them  that  that  was 
out  of  the  question,  and  I  solved  the  problem  very  simply 
by  putting  reinforcing  steel  on  the  outside,  inside  and 
out,  and  Guniting  the  wall  with  an  inch  and  a  half  of 
Gunite,  which  would  have  meant  that  if  it  didn't  have  any 
dirt  in  it  it  would  have  been  a  fortress.   They  were  very 
happy.   As  a  matter  of  fact,  at  the  time,  it  didn't  cost 
much  more  than  plastering.   But  it  was  an  experience  be- 
cause it  shows  the  bureaucratic  mind,  how  hard  it  is  for 
them  to  adjust  to  any  new  ideas.   We  later  proved  that 
from  the  point  of  view  of  an  earthquake,  it  had  tremendous 
strength.   It  had  the  ability  to  roll  more  easily  than  a 
mortar  building,  and  it  was  designed  with  enough  solidity 
that  it  would  take  care  of  the  seismic  thrust,  I'm  sure, 
without  any  question.   But  anyway,  it  made  a  beautiful 
house.   It  was  half-indoors  and  half-outdoors  and  had 
nice  gardens.   It  was  a  great  wrench  when  we  left  that 
area,  because  we  loved  it  very  much.   It  had  a  nice  stable, 
a  training  track,  because  I  raised  show  horses  at  that  time 
and  used  to  train  them  there  and  take  them  to  the  shows. 
Then  later  I  converted  that  stable — which  was  also  a  mural 
studio,  a  combination  of  stable  and  mural  studio — I  con- 
verted it  into  a  house  for  some  friends  of  ours.   It's  a 


beautiful  house  up  there  today.   [tape  recorder  turned 

DECEMBER  10,  1976 

GOODWIN:   Last  session  we  discussed  the  Scripps  College 
years,  and  we  concluded  with  some  remarks  about  Mexican 
mural  painting.   We  finally  ended  with  mention  of  the 
second  home  that  Mr.  Sheets  built  in  the  Claremont  area. 
This  session  we're  going  to  discuss  the  World  War  II  years, 
and  we're  going  to  begin  with  the  building  of  schools  for 
the  air  force. 

SHEETS:   Fine,  George.   I  think  it  was  the  latter  part  of 
1939,  a  friend  of  mine,  whom  I  had  met  socially— Ma jor 
[Corliss  C]  Moseley,  a  man  eminently  known  here  in  avia- 
tion circles— ran  most  of  the  repair  work  and  teaching  of 
flying  and  whatnot,  plus  many  other  interests  in  aviation, 
at  the  old  Glendale  Airport.   He  called  me  and  asked  me  if 
I  knew  an  honorable  contractor  in  the  city  of  Claremont  or 
that  area.   He  said  he  had  the  responsibility  of  having  an 
air  school  built  almost  overnight,  that  he  had  been  given 
a  contract  by  the  U.S.  Army  Air  Force  to  hire  instructors 
and  ground-school  teachers  and  build  a  complete  school, 
hangars  and  ground  school,  for  900  people.   He  said  it 
had  to  be  done  in  a  matter  of  three  months,  and  he  asked 
if  I  knew  an  honest  contractor.   I  said,  "I  certainly  do. 
By  good  fortune  I  can  tell  you  not  only  a  very  competent 


man,  but  a  man  of  great  integrity  who  is  associated  with 
the  colleges.   He's  a  trustee  of  the  colleges,  and  he's  a 
neighbor  of  mine,  and  I've  worked  with  him  over  a  period 
of  years."   He  said,  "Well,  could  you  make  a  date  with  him 
for  this  afternoon?   I  need  to  come  out.   We  have  to  build 
this  school  immediately."   I  made  the  date  and  they  met. 
After  the  meeting,  the  contractor,  whose  name  was  Clarence 
Stover,  called  me  and  said,  "Millard,  I  appreciate  so  much 
meeting  Major  Moseley,  and  I  love  his  enthusiasm,  but  all 
he  had  on  the  back  of  an  envelope  was  an  idea  of  how  many 
buildings  the  school  ought  to  have.   There  were  no  plans, 
no  drawings,  no  conception  of  the  scale,  or  anything.   I 
had  to  tell  him  that  I'd  love  to  build  it,  but  I  couldn't 
build  it  from  the  back  of  that  envelope."   In  those  days 
even  the  construction  of  that  first  school  was  well  over 
a  million  dollars,  which  would  be  like,  probably,  ten  or 
twelve  million  today,  to  give  you  some  idea  of  the  scope 
of  the  project.   Major  Moseley  called  me  that  night  later 
and  said  that  he  was  distressed  with  the  fact  that  nobody 
could  build  this  thing  from  his  envelope,  and  he  said, 
"You've  got  to  help  me.   Will  you  put  this  thing  together 
for  me?" 

So  without  wanting  to  be  involved,  I  suddenly  found 
myself  involved  in  designing  a  major  air  school.   Though 
I'd  been  designing  buildings  for  a  long  time  and  I  had 
done  many  fairly  large  projects,  I  hadn't  had  a  project 


before  where  you  had  to  have  guys  flying  in  thirty  days 
from  a  dead,  still  start.   Normally  you'd  spend  three  to 
four  to  five  months  on  the  plans  and  then  build  it  in  six 
or  eight  months.   So  I  just  literally,  practically  slept 
with  Major  Moseley  for  about  a  week  and  did  get  all  of 
the  information,  during  which  time  I  was  having  the  site 
surveyed  and  the  elevations  worked  out  and  so  forth.   I 
literally  designed  that  school  while  it  was  being  built. 
I  laid  out  a  master  plan  from  the  layout  of  the  buildings 
and  quickly  ascertained  the  size  and  that  kind  of  thing 
and  gradually  put  it  together.   We  were  really  designing 
the  last  of  the  classroom  buildings  and  the  dining  rooms 
and  the  kitchens  and  that  sort  of  thing  last  while  they 
were  building  the  dormitories  and  the  hangars  and  the 
control  towers,  and  getting  the  whole  plot  covered  with 
pavement  so  they  could  land  airplanes  on  it.   Well,  it 
was  a  very  peculiar  happenstance  because  this  field  was 
the  first  field  out  of  some  seventeen  schools  finally 
that  were  given  to  private  contractors  to  build  in  order 
that  the  program  could  be  speeded  up.   Up  to  that  time, 
they  had  produced  approximately  sixty  pilots  a  year  for 
the  air  force. 
GOODWIN:   That's  all? 

SHEETS:  That's  all.  They  of  course  were  mostly  men  who 
had  finished  West  Point  and  had  come  through  the  regular 
system  of  the  army  and  then  gone  to  the  air  force.   Their 


estimated  aim  was  90,000  pilots,  including  flying 
engineers — that  is,  navigators — not  to  count  gunners, 
mechanics,  and  all  the  rest  of  the  people  who  could  be 
involved.   Bombardiers  came  later.   The  army  air  force 
knew  that  it  was  impossible  to  put  this  load  on  the  U.S. 
Army  Engineers,  which  of  course  had  been  the  organization 
which  had  always  built  schools,  partly  because  it  would 
take  at  least  a  year  for  them  to  go  through  the  routine 
of  planning.   In  addition  to  that,  they  were  planning 
every  other  facet  of  development  for  what  appeared  to 
be  an  inevitable  war.   Also,  if  they  used  everybody  in 
the  entire  air  force,  they  couldn't  have  even  had  enough 
instructors,  let  alone  people  to  administer  and  run  the 
operation.   So  for  two  reasons  they  went  to  private  con- 
tractors, who,  on  the  strength  of  their  contract  with  the 
U.S.  Army  Air  Force,  could  finance  and  build  the  schools, 
buy  the  land  or  lease  it,  and  hire  the  personnel.   Then, 
once  the  schools  were  completed,  the  government  bought 
the  schools  and  owned  and  operated  them.   The  private 
contractors  did  handle  all  of  the  flying  on  an  hourly 
basis,  and  in  those  days  they  made  a  great  deal  of  money 
out  of  the  project  because  the  taxes  weren't  the  same  as 
they  are  now.   Well,  that's  just  for  background. 

Now  the  big  problem  was  that  there  were  so  many 
contractors  being  interviewed  and  they  were  searching 
so  desperately  for  air  space.   Air  space  is  a  peculiar 


thing  when  you  recognize  that  they  wanted  all  schools 
beneath  2,500  feet  of  altitude.   When  you  think  that  each 
school  needed  a  radius  of  a  minimum  of  twenty-five  to 
fifty  miles  of  air  space,  you  couldn't  put  them  right 
next  to  each  other  for  teaching  beginning  flyers.   Weather 
had  to  be  reasonable.   In  the  beginning,  they  wanted  areas 
that  were  connected  to  towns  where  they  could  get  utilities, 
water  and  power  and  roads.   So  this  school  happened  to  be 
the  first  one  that  met  the  deadline.   We  literally  were 
flying  in  ninety-four  days  from  the  time  that  they  asked 
me  to  design  this  school.   The  contractor  was  superb.   He 
really  did  a  job  that's  hard  to  believe.   As  I  designed 
more  and  more  of  the  schools,  I  tried  to  make  the  buildings 
as  interesting  as  I  could  on  a  low  budget.   I  created 
decorative  qualities,  which  I  believed  in,  as  part  of  the 
function,  instead  of  the  typical  army  barracks,  so  lacking 
in  personality. 

GOODWIN:   What  did  you  include? 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  painted  murals  in  the  dining  rooms.   It 
was  just  fun — I  gave  those.   Toward  the  end  of  each  job, 
I  would  be  so  excited  about  them  that  I  wanted  to  add  my 
own  feeling  to  the  place.   So  I'd  go  in  and  paint  murals 
in  the  dining  rooms  and  try  to  fit  them  into  the  locale 
where  they  were.   I  even  designed  furniture,  because  we 
couldn't  buy  furniture  fast  enough.   The  furniture  market 
didn't  provide  the  heavy  stock  that  we  needed  to  stand  the 


pressure  of  all  these  young  men.   They  were  pretty  rugged 
young  guys.   So  I  designed  chairs  and  beds  and  chests  of 
drawers  and  tables  for  the  dining  rooms.   So  I  had  them 
out  here  in  Los  Angeles.   It  became  an  overnight  business, 
which  I  had  nothing  to  do  with.   I  had  these  people  contract 
directly  with  the  various  contractors  for  the  schools.   But 
it  was  a  very  exciting  experience  to  put  it  all  together-- 
landscaping,  the  whole  works. 

By  coincidence,  the  man  who  was  the  head  of  the  air 
force.  Hap  [Henry  H.]  Arnold,  was  a  great  friend  of 
Major  Moseley.   To  celebrate  the  fact  that  this  was  the 
first  school  finished,  he  flew  out  from  Washington  to 
celebrate  the  opening.   He  fell  in  love  with  the  school, 
went  back  to  Washington,  and  told  his  staff  that  the  one 
fellow  who  knew  how  to  design  air  schools  was  that  guy  out 
in  California,  [laughter]  which  really  was  a  ridiculous 
thing  because  I  had  to  put  a  staff  together  overnight. 
I  had  engineers  working,  along  with  draftsmen,  while  I 
was  flying  back  and  forth  to  Washington  for  discussions. 
I  designed  practically  every  school  that  I  did,  not  on 
the  back  of  envelopes  but  in  proper  pads,  flying  back 
and  forth.   It  used  to  take  twenty-three  hours  to  Washington 
by  a  DC-3 ,  with  something  like  eleven  stops  each  way. 
GOODWIN:   What  was  the  full  name  of  the  first  school? 
SHEETS:   The  first  school  was  called  Cal-Aero,  and  it  was 
quite  famous  because  it  was  the  first.   About  the  time 


that  I  thought  we' were  all  cleaned  up,  these  contractors 
began  to  arrive  from  all  over  the  United  States  saying, 
"Here,  we've  got  a  site  in  Arizona  and  Texas  and  Ohio." 
It  ended  up  that  in  a  period  of  about  three  years,  I  did 
seventeen  major  schools.   I  had  a  lot  of  interesting 
experience,  you  know,  working  with  totally  different 
kinds  of  contractors.   By  contractors,  I'm  not  speaking 
of  the  building  contractors,  because  Stover  built,  I 
think,  something  like  fourteen  out  of  my  seventeen  schools. 
He  was  so  proficient,  and  he  moved  so  readily  from  one  big 
area  to  another.   He  had  built  up  a  staff  that  was  really 
competent  to  do  these  things.   But  it  was  a  great  experience 
for  me  to  meet  these  kinds  of  business  people,  industrial 
people.   I  met  everybody  from  big  industrial  people  who 
were  given  a  contract  to  motion  picture  people,  like 
Leland  Hayward  and  a  whole  group  of  Hollywood  stars  who 
built  Thunderbird  I  and  Thunderbird  II  [flying  schools] . 
They  were  all  flyers,  incidentally.   ^That's  why  they  be- 
came interested  in  this  thing.   That  touched  me  for  the 
rest  of  my  life,  because  I  moved  into  different  areas, 
through  those  connections,  that  I  never  would  have  moved 
into  before  or  probably  ever.   There  was  the  excitement 
of  moving  more  and  more  out  into  space,  where  there  were 
no  utilities,  where  there  was  nothing  even  within  twenty- 
five  to  fifty  miles  in  the  way  of  a  town,  where  we  had  to 
drill  our  own  wells  and  build  generators  and  the  whole 


thing.   It  was  a  wild  experience,  but  very,  very  exciting. 

It  was  during  this  time  that  I  met  so  many  of  the  men 
who  later  I  was  ro  meet  firsthand  in  the  war,  not  only  some 
of  the  top  young  captains  and  majors  who  were  running  the 
schools,  who  then  went  on  into  combat,  but  many  of  the 
students  who  went  through  these  schools  and  who  1  later 
flew  with  on  bombing  missions  and  got  to  know,  who  rose 
very  rapidly  in  the  ranks.   When  you  have  an  enormous 
extension  of  a  program  like  the  army  air  force  did,  some 
of  those  early  lieutenants  became  brigadier  generals 
before  the  end  of  the  war. 

GOODWIN:   Were  you  anticipating  that  when  the  war  started 
you  would  be  in  the  military? 

SHEETS:   No.   1  was  married,  and  I  had  four  children  by 
the  end  of  the  air  school  program.   It  didn't  occur  to  me 
that  I  would  necessarily  be  in  the  fighting  end  of  it,  but 
I  was  very  sure  that  I  would  be  involved  somewhere  where  I 
might  be  some  help  or  at  least  feel  that  I  was  contributing 
something  to  the  war  effort.   Because  I  don't  think  you  can 
get  as  involved  as  I  was  with  the  onrush  of  the  thing,  the 
tremendous  surge  of  getting  that  job  done,  and  then  just 
sit  back  quietly  and  teach  in  the  college.   It  just  some- 
how didn't  work. 

But  the  one  thing  that  was  most  exciting  about  it  to 
me  was  that  Am.ericans  had  the  capacity  to  do  this.   This 
was  an  extraordinary  thing ,  because  before  I  left  the 


projects,  there  were  90,000  boys  a  year  being  trained. 
They  hit  the  mark  they  set,  and  though  some  of  those 
schools  went  on  for  like  two  and  a  half  years  after  we 
finished  them,  they  really  were  successful  and  exciting 
projects.   The  know-how  just  seemed  to  come  up  out  of  the 
ground.   You  wondered  where  they  could  get  that  many  flight 
instructors,  where  they  could  get  that  many  ground  instruc- 
tors.  Of  course,  the  colleges  did  turn  out  and  had  the 
people  within  the  college  area  who  could  do  these  compli- 
cated things  that  were  involved  on  the  ground  school. 
That  was  the  high  level  that  was  demanded  of  these  people. 
Of  course,  everything  in  the  fields  of  mathematics — oh,  I 
can't  even  begin  to  go  into  how  complicated  it  was.   But 
it  was  a  good  background  for  me,  and  I  learned  to  fly — not 
with  any  license,  but  I  did  a  lot  of  flying.   Among  other 
things,  I  had  to  barnstorm  all  around  looking  for  areas 
after  a  while,  and  I  had  learned  to  know  every  demand  that 
was  needed  in  terms  of  the  peculiar  necessities  and  had  to 
be  able  to  analyze  whether  we  could  do  some  of  the  things 
that  had  to  be  done . 

GOODWIN:   Were  there  some  other  schools  built  in  California? 
SHEETS:   Yes,  I  built  one  in  Tulare,  one  in  Visalia,  one 
in  King  City,  one  in  Dos  Palos,  one  in  Oxnard .   There  were 
one  or  two  more.   Just  off  the  top  of  my  head  I  can't 
remember,  but  there  were  that  many  in  California,  and  we 
had  three  or  four  in  Arizona,  the  Thunderbird  schools  and 


the  Falcon  school,  which  was  where  we  trained  British 
pilots.   We  trained  about  50,000  British  pilots  at  Falcon 
Field  over  a  period  of  about  three  years.   It  was  designed 
for  the  British--not  that  it  was  any  different,  but  they 
sent  the  boys  over  here.   We  did  train  about  that  many 
fliers  and  engineers.   Then  there  were  several  in  Texas: 
Corsicana  and  Fort  Stockton  and  Uvalde.   I  can't  remember 
all  the  places  in  Texas.   There  was  one  in  Ohio.   It  came 
to  a  total  of  seventeen. 

GOODWIN:   Did  you  employ  any  artists  to  help  you  with 
artistic  details? 

SHEETS:   Yes,  after  we  were  really  moving,  I  did  employ 
quite  a  few  artists  who  were  colleagues  of  mine  to  do 
various  decorations.   We  tried  to  get  good  reproductions 
of  good  paintings,  in  addition  to  doing  some  things  right 
on  the  wall,  to  make  the  place  habitable.   In  fact,  it 
became  kind  of  a  joke.   The  army  air  force  referred  to 
our  schools  as  the  country  clubs  of  the  air. 

As  a  matter  of  fact,  there  was  an  investigation  after 
the  war,  quite  a  long  time  after  the  war,  as  to  why  I  had 
done  so  many  schools,  and  why  this  contractor  had  done  so 
many  schools.   I  guess  it  was  the  period  when  they  were 
trying  to  prove  collusion  or  something.   I  remember  how 
angry  I  was.   The  FBI  arrived  in  Claremont  and  tied  up  my 
bank  account  and  went  all  over  town  trying  to  find  out  if 
I  had  any  reputation  or  not,  because  they  couldn't  figure 


out  why  anyone  had  done  so  many.   Well,  it  turned  out  that 
they  couldn't  find  anything  wrong,  and  I  was  pretty  upset 
when  they  finally  came  to  tell  me  in  my  office  at  the  col- 
lege that  they  hadn't  found  anything  wrong  and  that  they 
were  leaving.   I  said,  "In  other  words,  this  investigation 
is  closed."   And  this  insolent  son  of  a  bitch  turned  to  me 
and  he  said,  "The  FBI  never  closes  a  case."   Well,  I  said, 
"I've  got  news  for  you.   Unless  you  have  some  kind  of  a 
warrant,  don't  you  ever  come  into  ray  office  again,  because 
whether  you're  the  FBI  or  God  almighty,  I'll  just  knock  the 
bejesus  out  of  you."   I  was  so  angry.   They  had  been  in 
that  town,  and  they  had  gone  through  it  with  a  fine-tooth 
comb.   They  had  combed  the  air  force  in  and  out.   The 
funniest  part  of  it  was,  and  what  really  dissipated  the 
examination  was,  that  our  schools  cost  about  40  percent 
per  man  housed  and  fed  and  taught  to  fly  what  the  regular 
army  air  force  schools  cost,  and  they  were  living  in  rudi- 
mentary huts.   But  we  did  it  because  we  just  jumped  in. 
In  fact,  it  shocked  the  hell  out  of  them  when  they  found 
out  that  the  years  that  I  designed  those  schools  I  made 
roughly  7  0  percent  of  my  income  from  what  I  normally  make, 
because  I  gave  up  everything  to  do  this,  and  I  was  doing 
it  on  an  extremely  limited  budget.   I  did  have  an  expense 
account,  which  meant  flying  and  that  kind  of  thing,  but 
there  was  no  expense  account  for  luxuries.   There  weren't 
any  luxuries  to  begin  with.   But  anyway,  it  dissipated, 
and  that  was  that. 


It  was  really  interesting  to  meet  after  that,  in  all 
parts  of  the  world,  even  twenty  years  after  the  war,  men 
who  had  been  young  officers,  very  young,  or  even  cadets, 
in  high  places  in  Turkey  and  other  countries.  It's  just 
really  been  an  astounding,  fun  thing  to  see  what  happens 
with  those  people. 

Well,  then  almost  at  the  exact  ending  of  that  whole 
project,  the  war,  of  course,  was  well  under  way.   Pearl 
Harbor  had  been,  I  think,  a  year  before  we  finished  the 
final  building.   One  last  point  on  that:   I  felt  that 
toward  the  end  of  our  project  that  we  should  try  rammed- 
earth  because  we  had  completely  run  out  of  wood — there 
was  very  little  in  the  way  of  material;  everything  was  so 
short  that  you  couldn't  believe  it.   Skilled  labor  was 
practically  nonexistent  at  this  point.   They'd  gone  into 
various  army  projects,  and  many  of  them  had  gone  overseas-- 
carpenters  and  whatnot  had  gone  overseas — to  do  that  kind 
of  work.   I  had  done  a  great  deal  of  research  on  rammed- 
earth  houses  all  over  the  world,  some  of  them  being  1,000 
years  old  and  that  kind  of  thing,  as  well  as  the  huts  that 
were  built  in  the  Dakotas  in  the  plains  in  our  own  country 
in  the  early  days.   I  figured  out  that  if  we  could  get 
equipment  set  up,  we  could  build  these  dormitories  and 
major  buildings  with  rammed  earth.   It's  an  old,  old 
process.   It  isn't  like  adobe.   We  didn't  have  time  to 
make  adobe.   But  with  rammed  earth,  if  you  have  the  right 


soil  conditions,  you  can,  by  putting  about  the  maximum  of 
4  percent  moisture  content,  put  it  into  forms  in  layers 
of  four  to  six  inches  as  it's  dumped  in,  and  then  by  com- 
pressing it  with  a  tamping  machine,  you  can  make  it  as  hard 
as  concrete.   You  can't  drive  a  nail  into  it.   I  figured 
this  would  be  the  greatest  solution.   We  could  build  pre- 
fabricated forms  that  could  be  moved  along.   We  could 
compact  the  dirt  up  into  windows  after  it  had  been  saturated 
with  the  right  amount  of  water  and  let  it  settle  under  can- 
vas for  a  few  days.   The  engineers  in  Washington  were  slightly 
encouraging  in  the  beginning,  but  they  were  so  busy,  and 
they  were  afraid  of  anything  that  they  hadn't  heard  of, 
and  most  of  those  fellows  never  read  a  book  about  such 
things.   So  I  ended  up  by  building  my  house  at  Padua  in 
rammed  earth  to  prove  it  could  be  done.   I  think  I  told 
you  about  that.   Then  the  county  became  frightened,  and  we 
had  to  Gunite  it.   But  it  would  have  been  a  very  practical 
thing,  and  out  in  these  desert  areas  the  soil  conditions 
were  generally  pretty  good  for  it.   But  it  was  all  exciting. 
About  the  time  that  that  project  ended,  I  was  asked  by 
the  War  Department  to  become  a  war  artist.   I  was  called 
back  to  Washington.   A  project  had  been  set  up  by  George 
Biddle,  who  was  one  of  the  Philadelphia  Biddies,  a  very 
good  painter  in  his  own  right — and  a  man  that  I  had  met 
on  some  occasion,  probably  on  a  jury  meeting  or  something 
in  the  East.   He  had  put  my  name  as  one  of  some  twenty 


names  that  were  first  submitted  to  the  War  Department. 
After  we  were  approved,  we  were  all  called  to  Washington 
to  be  told  what  the  projects  were  to  be  like.   We  were 
told  that  with  the  various  theaters  of  war,  the  South 
Pacific  and  Africa  and  England  and  so  forth,  that  we  could 
virtually  select  our  own  field,  our  own  theater  of  war.   We 
would  be  rated  as  lieutenant  colonel  and  given  the  same 
privileges  as  an  officer,  but  we  would  simply  be  involved 
with  every  facet  of  the  fighting  and  everything  that  lies 
behind  it.   We  would  paint  as  an  artist,  not  merely  as 
illustrators,  but  whatever  interpretation  an  artist  would 
give  to  the  whole  problem,  the  whole  tragedy  and  phenomenon 
of  war. 

GOODWIN:   What  was  the  motivation  for  having  war  artists? 
SHEETS:   Well,  it's  something  that  has  been  done  by  many 
countries  for  centuries,  actually,  and  I  think  the  point 
that  Biddle  made  was  that  an  artist  would  be  able  to 
interpret,  as  no  other  person  could  interpret,  many  as- 
pects of  the  war.   Of  course,  they  had  photographers  that 
were  doing  a  tremendous  job  in  documentation,  but  Biddle 
was  able  to  convince  the  War  Department  that  artists  were 
capable  of  a  deeper  type  of  interpretation  and  would  be 
involved  in  more  basic  values  and  less  concerned  with  what 
the  eye  sees  and  more  of  what  really  goes  on.   There  seemed 
to  be  a  great  enthusiasm  for  this  on  the  part  of  the  War 


We  went  through  the  business  of  being  properly  indoc- 
trinated into  our  jobs,  and  we  were  told,  of  course,  of 
the  tremendous  responsibilities  and  secrecy  and  a  lot  of 
other  things,  uniformed  properly,  and  were  waiting  to  be 
sent  abroad.   I  was  in  New  York  waiting  in  the  middle  of 
a  sweltering  summer,  and  I  read  the  paper  early  one  morning 
where  Mr.  Biddle  had  written  an  article.   He  was  the  first 
one  who  went  out  into  the  field.   He  went  to  Italy  at  the 
time  of  the  first  landing  in  Italy.   He  had  written  an 
article  about  how  fantastic  it  was  for  an  artist  to  be 
there  in  the  middle  of  the  war  and  to  see  the  fighting 
and  to  see  the  flowers  and  to  see  a  lot  of  other  things. 
He  waxed  entirely  too  romantic  about  it  because  he  wasn't 
that  kind  of  a  person,  and  it's  strange  that  he  would  write 
what  he  did.   But  it  was  such  a  bad  statement  that  the 
Congress  immediately,  within  two  days,  killed  the  whole 
project.   It  just  absolutely  said  that  if  that's  the  kind 
of  thing  that  we're  paying  for,  there  isn't  going  to  be 
any  of  it.   It  was  a  terrible  shock  to  Biddle  and  to 
people  in  the  War  Department  who  really  wanted  this 
thing . 


DECEMBER  10,  1976 

SHEETS:   I  was  in  New  York  with  four  or  five  other  artists- 
some  of  them  were  going  to  England  and  various  places — when 
this  complete  stoppage  of  the  program  occurred.   I  was 
called  by  Washington  immediately  and  informed,  though  the 
project  had  been  stopped,  to  not  leave  New  York  because 
the  government  was  making  arrangements  with  Life  magazine 
to  take  over  the  entire  project,  exactly  as  it  had  been 
outlined  by  the  government  in  the  War  Department.   Within 
a  matter  of,  I  think,  hours,  twelve  hours  or  something 
like  that,  I  got  a  call  from  Dan  Longwell,  who  was  then 
the  editor  of  Life.   Longwell  was  a  fantastic  man,  a  great 
man.   He  had  great  imagination,  lots  of  fire,  and  tremen- 
dous flair  for  doing  things.   He  called  me,  and  I  went  over 
to  Life  magazine  with  the  other  men,  and  we  were  given  a 
very  exciting  outline  of  what  they  had  in  mind.   We  were 
tied  down  again  as  to  where  we  would  like  to  go.   Every- 
body seemed  shocked  when  I  said  India-China-Burma,  because 
I  had  always  wanted  to  go  to  China.   All  my  life,  as  a 
child,  it  meant  so  much  to  me  for  reasons  that  I  can't 
even  entirely  explain.   He  was  delighted,  and  after  two 
or  three  days  my  orders  were  changed,  and  I  was  shipped 
back  to  California  to  eventually  leave  by  Liberty  ship 
from  California  to  India. 


GOODWIN:   But  you  were  still  in  the  military? 
SHEETS:   Well,  we  became  certified  correspondents,  which 
meant  that  you  are  and  you're  not.   You're  not  actually 
part  of  the  military  force,  but  you're  subject  to  all  of 
their  rules,  regulations,  and  orders.   Orders  take  time 
to  be  cut,  and  you  simply  have  to  follow  the  same  orders 
exactly.   But  you're  given  the  rating,  as  I  said,  of 
lieutenant  colonel,  which  means  that  you  have  a  certain 
amount  of  freedom,  but  at  the  same  time  it's  in  direct 
relationship  to  everything  that  the  War  Department  or 
the  army  was  planning. 

I  came  back  to  California,  and  it  was  very  interesting 
because  the  only  means  you  had  of  getting  to  India  from 
California  was  by  Liberty  ship.   These  Liberty  ships  were 
being  built  up  and  down  the  state  and  into  Washington— 
and  I  guess  in  Oregon,  but  certainly  Washington.   They 
were  built  in  twenty-nine  days,  they  were  loaded  in  four- 
teen, and  you  took  off.   The  shakedown  cruise  in  our  case 
consisted  of  going  outside  San  Pedro  harbor  and  going  down 
to  about  Newport  and  back  to  Los  Angeles  harbor  in  three 
round  trips  to  figure  out  how  far  off  the  compass  was. 
The  compass  was  certainly  not  correct,  but  they  made  the 
notations  of  what  the  inaccuracy  was.   I  think  we  left  at 
eight  or  nine  in  the  morning,  and  by  about  five  o'clock 
that  afternoon  in  the  middle  of  June,  we  headed  right  off 
the  west  end  of  Catalina  on  our  way  to  the  South  Pacific 

and  then  to  India. 


Well,  the  captain  was  a  fantastic  man,  [William]  Crum. 
He  was  a  captain  in  the  navy  for  many  years,  and  then  he'd 
become  a  merchant  marine  and  worked  for  Luckenbach  Lines 
until  he  was  taken  back  by  the  navy  to  be  put  in  charge  of 
a  merchant  vessel.   Tragically,  he  had  had  two  ships  tor- 
pedoed out  from  under  him  already  during  the  war,  and  he 
was  like  a  man  walking  on  eggs.   He  was  a  very  gutsy  guy, 
but  he  was  extremely  emotional  and  very  high-strung,  as 
were  most  of  the  crew  members.   There  were  four  men  on 
that  crew  that  had  had  three  ships  shot  out  from  under 
them.   One  man  in  particular,  the  ship's  carpenter,  had 
been  in  an  open  lifeboat  for  twenty-nine  days,  and  every- 
one else  in  the  lifeboat  died.   That  was  really  such  a 
shocking  experience  to  me--to  meet  these  men  and  to  even- 
tually get  the  stories  out  of  them  and  to  know  what  the 
war  had  really  meant  to  them,  to  these  people.   We  had 
been  sitting  here  in  a  comfortable  situation  and  didn't 
really  have  any  sense  at  all  what  war  was,  and  that  was 
my  first  introduction. 

We  took  off,  as  I  said,  just  without  any  shakedown 
cruise,  really,  and  headed  southwest.   It  was  very  amusing; 
we  had  a  three-inch  gun  on  the  poop  deck,  but  the  Japanese 
submarines  at  that  time  had  six-inch  deck  guns.   They 
could  have  stood  off  out  of  our  range  and  blown  us  right 
out  of  the  sea.   We  were  all  alone,  without  convoy,  and 
the  gunners  were  on  the  poop  deck  day  after  day.   They'd 


throw  boxes  overboard,  and  then  they  would  try  to  hit 
them.   Well,  they  never  hit  a  box.   I  was  completely 
super  cargo,  along  with  six  submarine  officers  who  were 
being  sent  down  to  Tasmania  to  go  over  to  Australia  proper 
to  join  some  submarine  replacements.   Having  nothing  to  do, 
it  intrigued  me  to  make  kites,  like  I  did  when  I  was  a  boy. 
We  had  plenty  of  line  on  board,  and  I  made  a  kite  about  ten 
feet  high  that  I  put  out  about,  I  think,  maybe  three- 
eighths  of  a  mile  behind  the  ship.   That  kite  was  up  for 
like  six  days  straight,  and  it  never  had  a  bullet  hole  in 
it,  though  they  shot  at  it  continuously.   These  were  the 
early  days,  before  we  got  anywhere  near  the  so-called  war 
zone.   It  was  just  amusing  to  fly  that  kite.   Once  in  a 
while  we'd  bring  it  in  and  take  a  look  at  it,  and  not  a 
shrapnel,  nothing  had  gone  through  it.   They  were  a  won- 
derful bunch  of  kids,  but  just  as  green  as  the  rest  of 
us.   The  guys  in  the  gun  tubs  had  these  little  machine 
guns  which  would  have  done  very  little  damage  except  to 
somebody  in  an  open  boat. 

I  had  to  stand  watch,  the  same  as  everyone  else: 
four  hours  on  and  four  hours  off,  right  around  the  clock. 
It  was  interesting,  and  you  learn  an  awful  lot  about  what 
your  eyes  will  do  when  you  go  up  on  a  deck  after  you've 
been  in  a  cabin.   The  people  to  be  relieved  don't  leave 
for  thirty  minutes.   After  that  thirty  minutes,  on  the 
blackest  night,  when  you  think  there's  absolutely  nothing 


to  see,  you  can  see  the  horizon.   Your  eyes  adjust  to  that 
so  well,  and  it  was  an  amazing  experience  going  through 
that  whole  Pacific  to  be  on  that  deck  because  the  nights 
were  incredibly  beautiful  at  first,  and  there  was  phosphor 
in  the  water.   You  could  even  see  the  fish  with  the  phos- 
phorescence on  them,  and  it  was  a  wonderful  experience  in 
that  early  part. 

Then  things  began  to  get  tense,  more  tense,  because 
the  Japanese  were  knocking  these  Liberty  ships  down  ahead 
of  us  and  behind  us  even  pretty  regularly.   We'd  get  sig- 
nals, and  we  were  all  alone.   Doing  a  little  zigzagging 
didn't  mean  a  hell  of  a  lot,  but  we  were  zigzagging.   They 
planned  a  course  through  so  many  hundreds  of  South  Pacific 
islands  that  I  wouldn't  know  how  to  count  them.   They  told 
us  there  were  several  hundred,  but  we  only  saw  one  island, 
and  that  was  the  tip  top  of  Moorea  at  dawn.   The  ship's 
first  mate  told  me  the  night  before  if  I'd  get  up  at  four 
o'clock,  there  would  be  a  few  minutes  only  that  we'd  see 
it  over  the  horizon.   The  reason  that  we'd  see  it  was  that 
we  couldn't  get  far  enough  away  to  not  see  that  without 
being  very  close  to  an  atoll,  and  the  Japanese  were 
infesting  that  area  with  observers. 

So,  as  I  said,  things  were  getting  more  tense  and 
more  tense,  and  I  was  occupying  my  time  by  building  fur- 
niture.  The  captain  hated  to  live  in  his  quarters.   He 
wanted  to  sleep  on  the  deck,  so  I  built  him  a  bed,  and  I 


built  him  a  couple  of  very  interesting  chairs  that  he 
could  sit  in  and  relax  in  as  best  he  could  at  night.   I 
got  so  well  acquainted  with  fellows  that  had  been  through 
terrible  experiences  in  open  lifeboats.   Many  of  them  be- 
came very  ill,  after  we  were  at  sea.   Much  of  the  illness 
was  mental,  but  they  became  terribly  ill.   One  night  they 
called  me,  and  the  ship's  carpenter,  who  was  a  fellow  I 
really  liked,  a  fellow  about  forty,  had  passed  out, 
absolutely  cold.   He  was  as  rigid  as  a  piece  of  wood  or 
a  piece  of  stone.   In  fact,  his  back  was  not  quite  flat 
on  the  bed  in  the  middle,  but  was  arched  a  little.   His 
eyes  had  rolled  up  and  disappeared.   I  thought  he  was  dead 
when  I  walked  in.   Then  I  discovered  that  he  was  breathing 
a  little  and  that  his  pulse  was  very,  very  low.   The  guy 
was  a  very  brave  man,  but  it  got  him,  just  plain  fright, 
in  the  middle  of  the  night  in  that  darn  ship  to  think  in 
terms  of  another  one  going  under.   We  put  hot  and  cold 
towels  on  him  and  massaged  him  for  three  hours  before  he 
came  to.   And  then  he  really  didn't  know  where  he  was  or 
why  we  were  all  there.   It  was  a  weird  thing.   I  never 
had  run  into  anything  like  this  kind  of  psychology. 

Then  another  thing  had  happened  about  that  time.   The 
third  engineer,  I  guess,  was  the  first  avowed  Communist 
I'd  ever  met.   A  Communist  wasn't  a  common  thing  in  those 
days  though  you  heard  about  guys  here  and  there.   This 
fellow's  job  was  to  go  down  in  the  hold  of  the  ship  and 


check  the  propeller  shaft  every  so  often.   When  the  big 
lever  would  come  around  and  it  went  by,  he'd  touch  the 
bearing  to  see  if  it  was  getting  warm  and  if  it  needed 
oil.   One  afternoon  he  became  careless,  and  he  zigged 
when  he  should  have  zagged.   As  he  put  his  finger  down, 
down  came  the  tremendous  force  of  this  great  lever,  and 
it  smashed  his  forefinger  completely,  the  finger  he  had 
used  to  touch  the  bearing  with,  just  absolutely  smashed 
it.   I  heard  this  unholy  roar,  and  it  took  about  twenty- 
five  minutes--because  he  fought  everybody--to  get  him 
carried  up  the  steep  ladder,  from  the  very  bowels  of  the 
ship,  to  the  captain's  deck. 

They  got  him  into  the  captain's  cabin,  and  I  got  a 
call  from  the  captain  to  come  immediately.   I  went  up, 
and  he  said,  "There  isn't  a  doctor  on  board,  and  nobody 
knows  anything  about  what  to  do.   Do  you  know  anything 
about  what  to  do?"   I  said,  "Well,  I  certainly  don't, 
but  have  you  got  any  kind  of  a  first-^aid  kit?"   I  never 
saw  a  first-aid  kit  so  big,  as  big  as  a  suitcase,  a  huge 
thing,  loaded  with  stuff.   In  the  meantime,  they  had 
already  given  him  a  tremendous  slug  of  whiskey,  straight 
whiskey,  and  morphine,  which  don't  work  well  together  at 
all.   They'd  given  him  some  morphine  pills,  and  I  think 
it  and  the  whiskey  just  worked  against  each  other,  because 
he  was  in  an  absolutely  horrible  state  and  screaming. 
Needless  to  say,  he  hurt  like  hell.   They  couldn't  hold 


him.   That  blood  was  just  getting  on  the  ceiling  and  on 
the  bed  and  on  the  floor  and  all  over  that  room. 
So  finally  I  read  in  this  pamphlet  the  word  sulfa.   It's 
interesting  that  sulfa  had  been  discovered  less  than  a 
year  before  this.   It  said  that  when  at  sea,  you  were  to 
clean  the  wound  as  best  you  could  and  put  tons  of  sulfa  on 
it,  and  then  wrap  it  up,  and  don't  open  till  port.   You 
know  the  number  of  sailors  who  died  from  gangrene  at  sea 
was  so  much  greater  than  among  people  who  get  it  on  land. 
So  I  looked  at  this  bloody  thing,  and  it  was  just  hanging 
there  with  threads,  and  the  bone  was  all  messed  up.   The 
captain  said,  "Well,  you've  just  got  to  do  something." 
So  I  performed  an  operation,  which  I'm  not  very  proud  of. 
I  had  to  cut  all  those  shreds  off  and  cut  one  piece  of 
bone  off  that  was  just  dangling.   The  finger  was  simply 
gone,  down  to  the  first  joint.   Then  I  had  them  hold  his 
hand  up,  and  I  started  with  some  tape,  from  the  lower 
joint,  and  I  built  a  cornucopia.   By  the  time  it  got  up 
to  here,  it  was  about  four  inches  in  diameter.   I  poured 
that  thing  absolutely  full  of  half  of  the  bottle  of  sulfa. 
Then  I  took  tape  and  went  over  it,  over  it,  around  it, 
until  I  made  a  big  ball.   Boy,  talk  about  a  man  and  a 
ball  and  a  chain— this  man  on  his  right  hand  had  a  huge 
ball  on  the  end  of  what  used  to  be  a  finger.   Finally,  we 
calmed  him  down  and  he  went  to  sleep.   We  were  about  ready 
to  just  knock  him  out,  he  was  so  obstreperous. 


That  crazy  guy  really  drove  us  up  the  wall.   [phone 
rings;  tape  recorder  turned  off]   After  a  day  or  two,  he 
recovered  enough  to  come  on  deck  and  proclaim  how  much 
money  he  was  going  to  get  out  of  the  U.S.  government  for 
his  own  mistake.   He  became  completely  obnoxious.   Well, 
there  was  a  twenty-four-hour  poker  game  on  the  ship,  in 
the  officers'  quarters,  and  there  was  one  in  the  crew's 
quarters.   As  a  correspondent,  I  was  the  only  one  who 
could  go  both  places.   So  I  used  to  enjoy  playing  poker 
with  these  fellows  when  we  had  a  few  minutes,  at  very  low 
stakes.   When  I  went  down  to  the  crew's  place,  I  saw  hun- 
dreds of  dollars  in  every  pot.   I  couldn't  believe  it. 
Some  of  those  people  were  so  in  debt  that  they  would  have 
to  pay  everything  that  they  had  made  on  the  entire  trip  if 
they  ever  got  back  to  the  United  States.   The  ship's  cook 
was  the  top  winner.   He  had  everybody.   He  knew  how  to 
play  poker  and  he  had  that  poor  crew  whipped.   But  this 
third  engineer  used  to  sit  there  and  say  to  us  that  he 
didn't  know  anything  about  poker,  but  he  insisted  on 
playing,  with  this  damn  finger  in  the  air.   There  was  a 
period  that  it  smelled  quite  a  bit.   He'd  hold  that  right 
up  in  front,  and  between  what  he  said  about  what  was  wrong 
with  our  country  and  how  much  he  was  going  to  get  out  of 
it — and  everybody  knew  it  was  his  own  fault — he  wasn't  a 
very  well  liked  character. 

As  a  matter  of  fact,  when  we  got  finally  to  Hobart, 


Tasmania,  the  first  thing  we  did,  four  of  us  got  him  into 
a  taxi  and  took  him  to  the  hospital  for  a  coming-out  party, 
because  we  never  had  allowed  him  to  take  this  bandage  off. 
We  went  to  the  doctor,  an  English  doctor  up  on  the  emergency 
ward,  and  explained  the  problem.   He  smiled  and  he  started 
snipping.   He  snipped  a  little  more  and  a  little  bit  more, 
and  pretty  soon  off  came  the  bandage.   There  was  the 
smoothest  little  blunt  end  of  a  joint  you've  ever  seen. 
The  doctor  said,  "Well,  young  man,  there's  nothing  to  stop 
you  from  going  right  on  with  your  ship.   You're  in  very 
good  condition."   I  grabbed  the  doctor  and  took  him  out- 
side and  said,  "Look,  you  go  back  and  tell  him  that  you're 
going  to  have  to  operate  on  it  because  if  he  goes  back  on 
the  ship  they're  going  to  kill  him.   There's  no  question 
about  it.   He's  never  going  to  live  through  the  trip."   So 
the  doctor  went  back  and  told  him  that  on  second  thought, 
maybe  that  bone  inside  could  be  a  little  bit  sharp,  and 
eventually  it  might  give  him  a  little  bit  of  trouble;  so 
he  better  stay  over  for  another  boat.   I  often  wonder  if 
he  ever  got  another  boat  and  if  he  got  killed.   I've  never 
known  such  a  complete,  miserable  son  of  a  gun  as  this 
fellow  was. 

Another  thing  that  happened  was  that  I  painted  a 
mural  in  the  crew's  galley.   They  had  a  very  nice  little 
crew's  galley,  and  they  were  all  so  bored  with  life.   It 
was  a  tough  problem,  because  they  were  scared  at  the  same 


time.  So  I  went  down  and  painted  these  very  good-looking 
ladies  coining  up  out  of  the  sea,  crawling  up  on  the  boat, 
and  I  had  a  lot  of  fun  doing  it. 

GOODWIN:   What  kind  of  art  materials  did  you  bring  with 

SHEETS:   I  had  all  my  paints,  fortunately.   I  had  oil  paint, 
and  I  had  watercolors.   So  I  just  used  my  own  paints  to 
paint  the  mural.   They  were  so  excited,  and  we  had  a  great 
big  party  the  night  that  we  celebrated  the  completion  of 
the  mural.   Two  days  later,  the  second  engineer  forgot  to 
turn  off  the  pump  motors  when  they  were  changing  the  oil. 
To  keep  the  ship  in  balance,  they  have  to  pump  oil  into  one 
side  and  then  into  the  other  side.   About  two  days  after  I 
painted  the  mural,  he  forgot  to  turn  off  the  pump,  and  the 
oil  came  through  the  ceiling  of  the  ship's  galley  and  went 
right  down  this  whole  wall.   Of  course  it  took  days  to 
clean  the  oil  up  so  they  could  even  use  the  galley.   I 
must  say  the  mural  had  a  very  definitely  glazed  look  it 
never  recovered  from. 

There  were  so  many  things  that  happened  en  route  that 
it's  incredible.   About  three  weeks  after  we  left  San  Pedro, 
a  week  and  two  days  before  we  got  to  Hobart,  Tasmania, 
every  night  about  dusk,  the  men  who  were  not  on  station 
began  nearly  always  to  climb  up  on  top  of  the  captain's 
bridge,  because  that  was  the  time  of  night  when  the  Japanese 
submarines  would  nearly  always  strike.   They  could  get  in 


fairly  close  in  the  dusk,  and  then  they  could  let  you  have 
it.   It  just  seemed  better  to  be  up  there  if  something  like 
that  happened.   One  night  we'd  been  talking,  the  captain 
was  there,  and  about  five  or  six  other  men  were  there,  when 
all  of  a  sudden,  about  two  miles  behind  us  and  off  to  the 
left,  a  rocket  went  up.   If  you  don't  think  that  made  the 
hair  on  the  back  of  your  neck  curl  upl   You've  been  out 
there  for  three  weeks,  you  haven't  seen  a  thing  except  for 
a  few  albatross  and  a  few  other  birds,  and  then,  suddenly, 
you  see  a  rocket  go  up.   At  the  same  moment  the  "Sparks," 
who  handled  the  radio,  came  running  up  and  said,  "I  have  a 
signal  that  there's  an  American  lifeboat  from  a  ship  that 
was  sunk  astern,  and  could  we  pick  them  up?"   Well,  the 
captain's  orders  were  absolutely  under  no  circumstances 
to  turn  back,  which  sounds  so  cruel  and  so  terrifying. 
The  Japanese  very  often  had  our  radios  and  had  men  who 
could  speak  English  without  accents,  and  they  used  them 
as  decoys  all  over  the  place.   Many  ships  were  sunk  as  a 
result  of  that  ruse.   It  was  the  most  horrible  feeling, 
going  away,  farther  and  farther  from  that  signal.   Then 
finally,  about  thirty  minutes  later,  and  it  was  really 
dark  by  this  time,  a  second  rocket  went  up.   And  I  know 
everybody  on  that  ship  was  sick  at  heart,  and  I  know  the 
captain  was  the  sickest  of  all  at  the  thought  of  not  being 
able  to  do  anything  about  it,  but  we  went  on. 

Then,  most  tragic  of  all,  that  night,  about  midnight. 


a  storm  hit  us  that  was  so  terrifying.   I've  never  known 
what  a  storm  at  sea  was,  though  I  thought  I  had  in  1929 
when  I  was  on  the  Leviathan  and  the  sea  broke  windows  in 
the  captain's  bridge.   But  the  Leviathan  was  bo  big  that 
even  though  the  storm  was  horrible,  it  didn't  seem  the 
same.   This  boat  pitched  around  like  a  cork.   No  one  could 
go  on  any  deck  for  about  three  and  a  half  days.   We  had  to 
run  with  the  storm  way  off  course.   The  waves  out  at  the 
sea  were  thirty  feet  high.   Incredible  breakers  would  come 
right  in  on  top  of  you,  and  wind  and  driving,  driving  rain, 
just  such  continuous  onslaughts  of  water,  you  just  couldn't 
believe  it.   So  that  made  us  even  feel  worse,  because  if 
they  had  been  our  boys  in  lifeboats  there  was  no  way  they 
could  have  survived  the  night. 

Then  we  eventually  landed  in  Hobart,  which  was  the 
most  dramatic  harbor  entrance  I've  ever  seen  in  my  life. 
It  took  a  full  day  to  go  from  the  entrance  of  the  harbor 
up  the  [Derwent  River]  mouth.   The  sea  goes  up  probably 
twenty-five  or  thirty  miles,  and  then  eventually  you  get 
to  Hobart,  Tasmania.   Well,  we  arrived  there  at  dusk,  and 
those  of  us  who  didn't  have  work  to  do  were  allowed  to  go 
ashore  for  the  first  time  in  thirty-two  days.   After  we 
had  disposed  of  the  third  engineer,  about  six  of  us— those 
naval  fellows  and  I  were  the  freest— went  into  the  first 
bar  we  could  get  to,  because  there  had  been  no  liquor 
aboard.   We  had  a  round  of  drinks,  and  they  said  the  bar 


is  closed.   Well,  we  said,  "The  bar's  closed?  We  just 
arrived."   It  was  only  like  seven  o'clock  at  night.   They 
said,  "Well,  the  bar's  closed  because  you've  used  up  all 
the  liquor."   So  that  was  a  kind  of  a  surprise,  but  there 
were  some  other  dives  which  some  of  the  boys  found.   In 
fact,  we  found  a  very  good  little  restaurant  on  the  out- 
skirts of  town  that  had  wine,  and  we  all  had  a  bottle  of 
wine  or  two.   No  one  was  feeling  very  much  pain. 

I  went  back  to  the  ship,  and  it  was,  oh,  about  two 
o'clock  in  the  morning,  and  I  heard  a  lot  of  racket  about 
four.   My  cabin  was  almost  exactly  where  you  enter  the  ship, 
and  I  poked  my  head  out  of  the  door.   The  second  engineer 
had  been  ordered  to  stay  on  the  ship  and  to  work  on  the 
propeller  shaft,  as  there  was  a  certain  amount  of  vibration 
in  the  shaft,  and  he  was  not  given  shore  leave.   He  had 
simply  ducked  overboard  the  minute  we  got  there.   So  as 
he  came  aboard,  the  first  engineer  said,  "You're  under 
arrest,  sir."   The  second  engineer  immediately  lunged  at 
him  and  struck  him,  which  in  wartime  is  mutiny.   It  was  so 
ridiculous,  in  a  sense.   Of  course,  he  had  no  business  to 
leave  the  ship  and  he  was  very  drunk,  utterly  drunk.   I 
had  to  sit  in  as  a  witness  at  the  trial  two  mornings  later, 
just  before  we  left.   They  had  some  very  high  naval  officers 
who  were  in  Hobart,  Tasmania,  along  with  some  British  naval 
officers,  and  they  held  a  court-martial.   The  prisoner  sat 
there  with  a  great  ball  and  chain,  which  was  the  first  time 


I'd  ever  seen  anything  like  that.   He  was  immediately  flown 
back  to  the  united  States,  and  he  was  sentenced  to  twenty 
years.   Now,  I  doubt  very  much  if  he  spent  twenty  years, 
but  that  was  how  tough  they  were  in  order  to  keep  this  kind 
of  thing  from  happening. 

we  were  there  for  three  days,  and  then  we  took  off. 
I  noticed,  when  we  were  loading  the  ship,  some  very  strange 
cargo  was  going  on  board  in  addition  to  food.   I  was  down 
in  the  hold  talking  to  someone  about  something,  and  I  saw 
these  huge  cases  of  ale.   There  were  some  other  liquor  and 
a  little  bit  of  beer,  but  mostly  ale  and  hard  liquor,  rum. 
It  was  absolutely  prohibited  that  this  be  brought  aboard. 

We  took  off  late  in  the  afternoon,  down  this  dramatic 
channel,  islands  like  I've  never  seen.   The  hills  on  both 
sides  were  absolutely  covered  with  eucalyptus  that  flowed 
over  it  like  great  waves.   You  can't  imagine.   There  was 
snow  on  the  ground  as,  you  see,  it  was  wintertime  down 
there.   In  fact,  we  went  to  45  degrees  south  latitude, 
which  was  almost  800  miles  south  of  Hobart,  before  coming 
up  into  Tasmania.   We  were  east  of  New  Zealand,  trying  to 
avoid  those  submarines-and  we  did  avoid  them,  because  we 
never  sighted  one,  and  we  certainly  were  not  struck.   So 
as  we  left,  it  was  very  dramatic. 

The  captain  disappeared  that  night.   He's  probably 
dead  now,  so  I  think  it's  safe  enough  to  say  that.   He 
became  completely  drunk  for  four  days.   The  ship  was  in 


a  very  precarious  situation.   We  were  down  in  the  Great 
Australian  Bight  in  the  middle  of  tremendous  storms,  going 
south  of  Australia.   It's  about  3,000  miles  just  through 
that  Great  Australian  Bight.   The  first  mate  was  trying  to 
be  everything  to  everybody.   The  worst  of  it  during  that 
period  was  that  it  was  the  middle  of  the  second  day  when 
I  had  a  call  to  come  to  the  captain's  quarters,  along  with 
a  young  man  who  was  actually  a  lieutenant  in  the  army. 
Again,  here's  a  case  of  tremendous  waste.   They  sent  this 
young  lieutenant  on  this  ship  to  check  out  the  cargo  when 
it  arrived  in  India.   He  supposedly  was  to  check  the  cargo 
during  the  trip,  a  couple  of  times  going  down  into  the  hold, 
but  there  was  no  way  you  could  check  quantities  or  anything 
like  that.   How  ridiculous  it  was  to  send  a  man  all  that 
distance  just  to  read  a  list  as  it  came  off,  when  all  they 
had  to  do  was  to  send  a  list  any  number  of  other  ways.   But 
anyway,  that's  what  the  army  did  in  those  days.   This  young 
man  was  a  charming  young  fellow,  a  graduate  of  the  University 
of  California,  and  he  had  just  been  married,  which,  as  with 
a  lot  of  other  fellows,  was  a  hell  of  a  tough  time  to  leave. 
He  had  been  born  in  China,  the  son  of  a  missionary.   The 
captain  of  a  ship,  of  course,  is  such  a  potent  person,  the 
absolute  ruler  of  a  ship,  with  absolute  control.   Occasion- 
ally during  the  voyage,  down  at  officers'  mess,  the  captain 
would  ask  this  young  man  about  God,  always  in  a  sarcastic 
and  very  deliberately  mean  way.   It  was  never  to  try  to 


learn  anything.   He  evidently  didn't  think  much  of  God, 

So  when  he  became  drunk,  he  sent  for  the  two  of  us. 
In  my  life,  I've  never  seen  anything  as  filthy  as  that 
cabin.   There  was  shit  on  the  floor;  there  was  the  most 
terrible  stench  and  old  food  lying  around.   The  boys  would 
bring  him  food,  but  they  never  dared  to  clean  the  quarters 
because  he  raised  so  much  hell.   [tape  recorder  turned  off] 
The  first  thing  he  did  was  pour  two  very  large,  dirty 
glasses  full  of  rum,  handed  a  glass  to  each  of  us,  and  said 
to  this  young  lieutenant,  "Drink  it  down."   I  found  out 
later  this  boy  had  never  had  a  drink  in  his  life.   I  think 
that  he  would  have  been  willing  to  if  he  had  to  drink  it, 
but  the  combination  of  this  order  and  the  confusion  and 
the  mess  of  the  stateroom  and  all  the  rest  of  it  was  so 
ghastly.   Well,  he  took  one  glug  of  it  and  nearly  coughed 
up  his  stomach.   He  wasn't  used  to  anything  like  that.   I 
didn't  even  touch  mine.   Then  the  captain  said,  "All  right 
now,"  and  he's  lying  there.   He  had  a  pair  of  the  filthiest 
shorts  on  and  nothing  else,  and  he's  just  lying  there  like 
a  Roman  drunk.   He  said,  "All  right  now,  tell  me  about 
God."   Well,  this  poor  kid,  he  was  only  twenty-two  or 
-three  or  -four,  and  he  just  didn't  know  how  to  handle 
this  situation.   I  didn't  know  how  to  handle  it  because 
I  knew  this  man  was  really  tough,  and  you  can't  cross  the 
captain.   So  he  just  browbeat  him,  kept  making  him  drink 
a  little,  and  every  once  in  a  while  he'd  say  to  me,  "Now, 


you  see,  he  doesn't  know  anything  about  God."   Finally, 
the  captain  just  passed  out,  and  we  took  off  in  a  hell  of 
a  hurry. 

We  went  down  to  the  cabin,  and  I  said,  "Well,  I  don't 
know  whether  this  thing  is  going  to  be  repeated  or  not,  but 
it's  an  unholy  situation,  and  we've  got  to  be  extremely 
careful  how  we  handle  it."   T^d  sure  enough,  about  four 
hours  later,  back  came  the  message,  "Come  back."   The  cap- 
tain had  this  incredible  thing  that  he  was  just  hooked  with, 
to  drive  at  this  thing  which  bothered  him,  because  the 
lieutenant  was  a  very  nice  young  man  and  obviously  a  good 
example  of  a  guy  who  lived  a  decent  life.   So  he  started 
in  all  over  again.   This  time  he  was  very  mean  about  it, 
and  he  pushed  him  around  and  was  ornery  as  hell.   Finally, 
I  said  to  rhis  young  fellov;,  "Ycu  beat  it.   Just  take  off. 
Let  me  talk  to  this  man."   He  was  drowsy  and  miserable,  so 
he  lefr.   New,  this  sounds  like  it  was  the  second  time,  but 
I  think  this  was  the  sixth  time  we  went  through  this.   Every 
time  it  would  last  about  a  half  an  hour,  and  the  room  got 
filthier  and  f ilthier--impossible . 

We  finally  went  up  for  the  last  time.   I  told  him 
before  we  went  up,  I  said,  "Now,  when  we  get  up  there  you 
stick  your  head  in  the  door  and  then  just  beat  it,  because 
this  can't  go  on."   I  didn't  know  whether  he  would  shoot 
us  or  what  the  hell  he'd  do,  but  I  wasn't  going  to  put  up 
with  it  any  longer.   So  finally,  when  he  left,  I  said. 


"Now,  captain,  this  is  wrong.   This  is  a  good  young  man, 
and  you're  not  in  any  fit  condition  to  talk  like  this  to 
him,  and  neither  of  us  are  coming  back  again,  period."   I 
said,  "You're  drunk,  and  you  ought  to  be  ashamed."   And  I 
just  walked  out  before  he  had  a  chance  to  do  a  damn  thing 
about  it.   That  was  about  six  o'clock  one  night. 

The  next  morning,  I've  never  seen  anything  like  the 
change.   Here  he  was  up,  shaved,  clean,  with  a  clean  uni- 
form, at  breakfast.   And  of  course  he  didn't  mention  it, 
and  we  didn't  mention  it.   But  it  was  a  weird,  terrible 
experience  to  see  how  a  man  with  that  much  power,  if  he 
had  wanted  to,  could  have  shot  him  or  shot  me  or  shot 
both  of  us,  because  that's  the  power  of  a  ship's  captain. 
But  I  do  think  it  brought  the  captain  and  me  a  little  bit 
closer.   He  talked  to  me  a  great  deal  more  after  that,  and 
we  had  some  very  pleasant  exchanges  of  experiences  and 

We  finally  got  around  the  big  bend  of  the  south 
coast  of  Australia  and  headed  up  to  Ceylon.   This  was 
the  part  they  feared  the  most,  as  far  as  the  Japanese 
were  concerned,  because  they  had  their  huge  cruisers 
that  were  equipped  strictly  for  war,  and  they  could 
outrun  anything  two-to-one.   They  were  sweeping  up  there, 
knocking  these  Liberty  ships  off  just  like  they  were  ten- 
pins.  The  ridiculous  thing  about  this  whole  course  was 
that  when  I  went  aboard  the  ship  the  first  day,  the 


captain  took  me  into  his  cabin  and  said,  "Now,  you're  the 
only  person  besides  me  who  knows  where  we're  going,  and 
you're  absolutely  under  orders  never  to  mention  where 
we're  going."   I  said,  "Yes,  sir,"  and  of  course  I  didn't, 
and  we  took  off.   He  called  me  up,  about  four  days  after 
we  left,  to  his  cabin  one  day,  and  he  said,  "I  want  you  to 
read  this."   He  handed  me  a  Reader 's  Digest  that  had  just 
come  out  before  we  left,  and  in  the  center  spread  it  had 
the  map  of  the  Liberty  ships  to  India,  completely  laid  out, 
the  exact  course  that  we  followed,  right  to  a  tee.   So  he 
complained  about  that  all  the  way,  the  fact  our  actual 
itinerary  had  been  published  in  the  Reader ' s  Digest.   So 
the  secrecy  didn't  amount  to  anything. 

But  anyway  we  didn't  get  chased  by  any  big  ships,  and 
we  felt  great  when  we  got  to  Ceylon.   We  were  there  about 
four  hours  while  the  captain  went  ashore  to  get  certain 
orders.   Now,  what  we  had  in  the  ship  was  high  octane 
gasoline,  and  1,000-pound  and  500-pound  aerial  bombs, 
small  arms  and  ammunition,  and  a  deckload  of  P-38s,  which 
wasn't  exactly  the  kind  of  a  cargo  you'd  like  to  have  if 
you're  going  to  be  in  trouble. 

We  finally  left  Ceylon  and  headed  for  Madras.   It 
was  terribly  exciting  for  me  to  land  in  Madras  because 
it  was  the  first  time  that  I  could  really  spend  any  time 
on  shore  in  India,  although  it  was  only  part  of  a  day. 
We  were  unloading  the  P-38s  at  Madras,  all  on  the  deck. 


and  a  lot  of  other  deck  cargo — jeeps  and  trucks  and  so 
forth.   I  went  into  town  and  saw  what  I  think  I  mentioned 
once  before,  about  Will  Levington  Comfort,  the  writer  who 
had  written  so  much  on  India.   Did  I  mention  that?   I 
thought  I  had.   Well,  anyway,  I  saw  what  I  had  always 
dreamed  India  was  like  when  I  went  to  Madras,  because 
it's  a  great  religious  center.   Here  were  ancient  old  men 
sitting  on,  in  one  case  I  remember,  a  tall  stump — it  must 
have  been  ten  feet  off  the  ground,  the  top  of  it — and 
sitting  up  there  in  the  lightest  clothing  with  a  beard 
way  down,  that  at  least  touched  his  tummy,  sitting  up 
there  just  contemplating  the  world.   That  whole  city  was 
so  filled  with  these  ancient  old  monks  and  young  priests 
and  all  sorts  of  temples  that  I  thought,  well,  India  was 
what  I  had  really  dreamed  it  was  like.   It  was  the  only 
place  in  India — and  I  spent  almost  a  year  there — that  was 
like  what  I  had  always  breamed  of.   Madras  is  absolutely 
unique.   There  are  marvelous  temples  everywhere,  north  of 
and  all  around  Madras  in  every  part  of  India,  but  here 
there  were  more  people  per  square  foot  than  any  place 
I've  ever  been  on  earth. 

Well,  that  night  as  we  were  coming  out  of  the  harbor, 
the  captain  called  me  up  to  his  bridge.   We'd  become  pretty 
good  friends  by  this  time.   He  said,  "I  dread  the  next 
twenty-four  hours  more  than  the  entire  trip.   This  is  the 
most  dangerous  water — tides  are  incredible.   They  change 


constantly.   They're  not  dependable."   He  said,  "We  have 
to  stay  quite  close  to  the  coast  because  of  the  fact  that 
those  Japanese  ships  were  running  out  there  knocking  our 
ships  out  of  the  water.  '  We  have  to  stay  within  about 
twenty  miles  of  coastline  all  the  way.   It's  a  dangerous, 
dangerous  trip."   So,  anyway,  we  started  off,  and  I  went 
to  bed. 

At  three  o'clock  in  the  morning,  I  heard  the  most 
fantastic  jangling  of  bells.   I  slept  right  underneath 
the  captain's  bridge,  and  I  could  hear  every  bell  in  the 
engine  room  perfectly  because  of  the  shaft  or  something. 
And  it  was  just  a  tremendous  ruckus.   Then  I  heard  people 
running  on  the  captain's  bridge  over  my  head.   I  jumped 
up,  went  out  on  the  deck,  and  looked  out.   It  was  a  dark 
night,  but  there  was  just  enough  starlight  so  that  I  could 
see,  and  not  twenty  feet  away  on  my  right  were  huge  rocks. 
I  couldn't  imagine  how  we  could  be  so  near  big  rocks.   At 
that  point  I  felt  a  jolt,  as  we  drove  into  the  sand  right 
beside  those  rocks.   Well,  the  captain  had  been  sound 
asleep  on  the  bridge  in  that  bed  I'd  made  for  him,  and  he 
had  awakened  out  of  a  sound  sleep  and  jumped  up  screaming, 
"Hard  left  and  full  speed  astern."   He  knew  from  the  echo 
of  the  sound  of  the  engines  that  we  were  that  close  to 
grounding,  and  that  the  worst  was  on  the  right.   If  he 
hadn't  given  that  order  we'd  have  gone  straight  into  the 
rocks,  and  the  whole  damn  ship  could  have  blown  up.   But 


as  it  happened,  we  missed  the  rocks,  this  very  heavy  rocky 
point,  by  about  ten  or  twelve  feet,  and  we  went  into  pure 
sand.  Well,  I  was  standing  out  there  just  wondering  what 
the  hell  was  going  to  happen  noW,  and  this  captain  looked 
down  from  up  on  the  bridge,  and  he  said,  "Well,  God  damn 
it,  you've  been  wanting  to  go  to  India.  Step  off.  There 
she  is,  mother  India." 

I  could  have  jumped  right  off  onto  the  rocks,  prac- 
tically.  The  mate  came  down  and  dropped  a  lead  to  see  how 
much  water  we  were  drawing  in  the  middle  of  the  ship,  where 
I  was.   We  had  fourteen  inches  of  clearance  in  the  middle, 
so  we  were  well  aground.   Well,  he  talked  a  great  deal 
about  what  they  would  have  to  do,  and  that  they  would  have 
to  wait  for  high  tide.   They  waited  for  high  tide,  and  then 
started  their  engines  up,  and  they  went  "glug,  glug,  glug, 
glug..."  and  stopped.   The  condensers  filled  up  instantly 
with  sand.   The  propellers  were  so  close  to  the  ground 
that  they  churned  up  so  much  sand  that  the  condensers  were 
immediately  filled.   Because  they're  hot,  it  took,  I  think, 
six  hours  before  they  could  take  them  out  to  clean  them. 
And  we  missed  that  tide  completely.   In  the  meantime  there 
were  little  dirigibles  flying  over  us  and  airplanes  flying 
over  us,  trying  to  get  us  to  break  radio  silence,  but  the 
captain  wouldn't  do  it.   I  was  up  on  the  bridge  with  him, 
and  he  had  a  pistol  lying  on  the  top  of  his  wardrobe. 


When  there  was  nobody  else  in  the  cabin,  he  said,  "If  I 
don't  get  off  of  here,"  he  said,  "I'm  going  to  use  that." 
He  said,  "All  my  papers  will  be  in  that  drawer.   I  can't, 
I  just  can't,  face  losing  another  ship.   I  just  can't  face 
it  after  all  the  things  that  I've  been  through."   Well, 
they  got  the  next  tide,  and  by  going  just  maybe,  "glug, 
glug,"  and  then  waiting,  they  gradually  floated  clear. 
It  took  seven  hours  to  get  that  ship,  under  the  best  tide, 
out  where  we  knew  we  were  free,  and  then  they  didn't  dare 
to  really  start  moving  because  the  water  was  so  shallow. 
But  we  got  out  by  about,  oh,  eight  o'clock  at  night.   We 
crept  out  and  very  slowly  went  up  the  balance  of  the  trip 
to  the  mouth  of  the  Jumna  River,  where  we  had  to  wait  until 
the  next  morning  because  they  won't  let  you  go  up  during 
the  night.   There  were  about  six  Liberty  ships  out  there, 
all  in  the  area  waiting.   We  started  up  the  river  when 
daylight  came. 

Well,  for  somebody  born  and  raised  in  California, 
the  sight  of  what  we  saw  going  up  that  river  was  almost 
too  much.   It  takes  a  full  day  to  go  up  the  river  in  a 
big  ship  to  Calcutta,  it's  that  far  inland.   It's  on  a 
great  delta.   You  know,  the  delta  comes  out  and  you  go 
up  right  in  through  the  delta,  which  is  built  up  by  the 
river.   We'd  gone  up  about  twenty  miles  when  I  began  to 
see  bodies  floating  down  the  river.   If  you've  never  seen 
that,  it's  a  little  bit  hard  to  explain  how  shocking  it 


is.   Because  I'd  always  heard  they'd  burned  everybody  in 
India  when  they  died,  I  couldn't  understand  why  these 
people  were  floating  down  the  river.   I  didn't  know  that 
they  were  having  the  greatest  famine  ever  known  in  India 
and  that  people  were  dying  like  flies.   During  the  first 
three  months  I  was  there  1,300,000  people  died  from  hunger. 
They  were  people  that  had  migrated  for  such  a  long  distance-- 
to  them,  not  to  us--but  for  500  to  800  miles  toward  Calcutta, 
Most  of  them  were  so  weak  that  when  they  got  there  they 
died,  and  they  were  just  thrown  in  the  river,  like  cord- 
wood.   It  was  the  only  place  to  do  it;  they  didn't  have 
the  wood  or  manpower  for  cremation. 

Well,  going  up  that  river  was  the  most  amazing  com- 
bination of  being  shocking  and  enchanting,  because  the 
villages  that  I  saw  were  so  beautiful  with  this  tropical, 
jungly  background,  people  and  temples  all  along  the  way, 
and  still  bodies  floating  down.   Every  time  you  looked 
around,  there  came  another  one.   I'll  never  forget  it. 


DECEMBER  10,  197  6 

SHEETS:   We  arrived  up  at  the  King  George  docks.   I  took 
a  taxi  from  there  to  the  Far  Eastern  Hotel  to  check  in. 
When  I  had  left  Los  Angeles,  they  told  me  that  was  head- 
quarters, but  when  I  arrived  there  I  discovered  that  they 
had  moved  the  headquarters  six  blocks.   And  in  walking  six 
blocks,  I  counted  nineteen  dead  bodies,  lying  on  the  side- 
walk, by  the  curb  and  in  the  gutters,  and  probably  150 
people  that  were  in  various  stages  of  dying.   You'd  think 
this  person  was  dead,  and  then  maybe  a  hand  would  slowly 
turn  over.   It  was  the  most  shocking  thing  in  the  world 
to  find  yourself  in  that  kind  of  situation.   Equally 
shocking  was  the  fact  that  on  the  window  of  this  hotel 
was  posted  an  eight-course  dinner.   It  was  a  horrible 
kind  of  affair  because  the  Bengal  government  of  India  was 
trying  to  blame  the  British,  and  the  British  were  trying 
to  blame  the  Bengal  government.   There  had  been  a  terrible 
drought,  and  crops  had  failed.   This  was  followed  by  two 
successive  years  of  hurricanes,  and  food,  seed  and  every- 
thing else  had  run  out.   The  tragedy  was  that  these  people 
had  heard  about  this  mythical  city,  Calcutta,  which  was 
anywhere  from  400,  500  miles  to  1,000  miles  away,  and  whole 
family  groups  simply  migrated  on  foot.   I  must  say  that  the 
men  did  give  their  food  to  the  children  and  the  women,  and 


they  nearly  always  died  first.   The  family  groups  were  so 
pathetic;  you  can't  believe  what  famine  does  to  bodies. 
The  Indians,  at  least  in  that  section  of  India,  did  not 
fight  for  food.   I  saw  people  die  in  the  middle  of  food 
that  was  piled  high  in  markets.   By  markets,  I  mean  little 
narrow  alleyways  with  raised  floors  where  the  merchants 
sat--maybe  eighteen  inches  or  twenty-four  inches  above 
the  floor  level — and  lying  in  these  narrow  alleyways  were 
family  groups.   If  they  reached  up  with  a  hand  without 
even  sitting  up  they  could  have  gotten  various  kinds  of 
food.   But  I  don't  believe  that  in  their  way  of  life  they 
ever  would  have  made  that  effort.   I  think  it's  just  impos- 
sible to  conceive  of  it,  having  watched  people  die  like 

Well,  of  course  I  was  not  completely  off  course,  and 
I  spent  the  first  two  weeks  in  India  covering  the  famine. 
I  went  into  villages  where  not  a  soul  was  alive.   I  went 
out  with  an  American  officer  in  a  jeep,  and  we  saw  things 
that  were  beyond  my  comprehension:   whole  villages  being 
cleaned  up  by  jackals  and  buzzards.   That's  the  only  gar- 
bage disposal  they  had.   They  say  that  about  3,000,000 
people  migrated,  and  1,300,000  of  them  died.   I  saw  great 
lines  of  people  that  were  being  fed  by  individuals.   The 
lines  would  be  500  people  long.   They  would  come  up,  the 
last  part  of  them,  to  a  place  where  they  would  be  dished 
a  little  rice,  a  little  soup,  or  something,  and  the  food 


would  run  out.   They  would  have  to  wait  until  the  next 
day,  and  they  formed  the  front  of  the  line.   It  was  the 
most  pathetic  thing  in  the  world.   I  made  a  whole  group 
of  drawings,  paintings,  which  I  sent  back  to  Life,  where 
they  were  printed  in  an  issue  on  the  famine.   [Life, 
XV: 21,  November  22,  1943] 

GOODWIN:   Did  you  paint  right  on  the  scene? 
SHEETS:   I  made  little  pen  sketches.   I  made  the  paintings 
after  I  got  back  to  headquarters  at  New  Delhi  or  someplace 
where  I  could  work.   You  couldn't  paint  under  those  condi- 
tions.  But  I  have  a  good  memory,  and  I  made  enough  drawings 
so  that  it  was  very  clear. 

Then,  after  checking  in  at  Calcutta  for  a  day  or  two, 
after  I'd  finished  this  roughly  two  weeks  in  the  famine 
area,  I  flew  up  to  Delhi  with  the  British  in  an  airplane 
that  looked  like  it  was  put  together  with  chewing  gum  and 
women's  hairpins.   I've  never  seen  such  an  outfit.   They 
were  a  wonderful  bunch  of  guys,  marvelous  pilots,  but  I 
really  couldn't  believe  the  airplane  itself  after  being 
accustomed  to  American  airplanes.   I  arrived  in  Delhi 
about  ten  o'clock  in  the  morning,  and  by  this  time  I  had 
the  old  Calcutta  crud.   Oh,  I  was  so  ill.   I  had  a  terrible 
fever  and  the  dysentery  and  all  the  things  that  go  with  it. 
I  really  thought  I  was  going  to  die  and  hoped  I  would,  I 
felt  so  horrible. 

I  was  taken  to  an  officers'  billet  in  a  funny  kind 


of  a  so-called  hotel.   They  took  me  up  to  this  room  and 
said,  "That's  your  bed."   You  had  to  crawl  over  about  four 
beds  to  get  to  it.   There  were  thirty  beds  in  the  room. 
You  had  a  footlocker  at  the  bottom  of  it,  and  that  was  it. 
At  that  time  of  day,  there  wasn't  anyone  there,  and  I 
finally  got  into  bed.   Even  with  blankets  on  and  my  uniform 
on  I  was  shivering.   I  finally  went  to  sleep.   Then  I  broke 
out  in  the  usual  thing,  cold  sweat  and  all  the  rest  of  it. 
I  was  miserable. 

I  went  back  to  sleep  again,  and  about  three  o'clock 
in  the  afternoon  I  was  violently  shaken  by  someone,  and  I 
didn't  even  know  where  I  was.   I  was,  you  know,  in  that 
bewildered  state,  and  after  all  the  experiences  I'd  been 
through  for  two  and  a  half  months — because  the  last  half 
of  the  trip  took  thirty  days  on  the  Liberty  ship  (the  total 
was  sixty  days  from  California  to  India) ,  plus  this  other 
two  weeks,  and  the  bewildering  variety  of  those  experiences, 
and  the  intensity  of  them — I  was  just  dead  out.   Well,  this 
guy  was  shaking  the  hell  out  of  me,  and  I  finally  roused  up 
enough  to  look  at  him.   He  said,  "What  in  the  hell  are  you 
doing  in  India?"   And  it  was  a  friend  of  mine  that  I  used 
to  meet  pretty  regularly  in  Southern  California  tennis 
tournaments,  a  fellow  by  the  name  of  Hal  Service,  who  was 
an  excellent  tennis  player,  a  damn  good  tennis  player.   He 
nearly  always  beat  me  in  the  finals  or  semifinals.   He  said, 
"Come  on  now.   Get  up.   We're  going  to  go  play  tennis." 


And  boy,  just  the  thought  of  that  was  the  most  sickening 
thing  I  ever  thought  of,  but  he  finally  persuaded  me  to 
get  dressed  and  go  with  him.   He  didn't  say  where  he  was 
going,  and  I  was  terribly  shaky,  but  I  finally  struggled 
out.   It  was  so  good  to  see  someone  that  I  knew,  and  I 
felt  practically  half -cured  by  that. 

We  go  downstairs,  and  we  get  into  a  jeep.   It  had  a 
big  flag,  I  remember,  a  big  long  stick  up  on  the  front 
pole  with  a  flag  on  it.   Boy,  he  hightailed  it  out  some- 
where in  this  thing,  going  like  a  bat  out  of  hell.   He 
had  a  couple  of  tennis  rackets.   We'd  go  by  some  very 
important-looking  buildings,  up  a  hill  between  more  impor- 
tant-looking buildings.   I  found  out  later  that  they  were 
the  general  headquarters  for  the  British  army  on  one  side, 
and  the  navy,  I  think,  on  the  other.   Then  we  went  right 
through  the  biggest  gates  I've  ever  seen,  and  right  up  to 
the  steps  of  the  viceroy's  palace. 

Standing  on  the  steps  waiting  for  Hal  Service  was  the 
viceroy  of  India  [Lord  Victor  A.J.H.  Linlithgow],  the  Jam 
Saheb  of  Nawanger,  and  the  aide  to  the  viceroy,  who  turned 
out  to  be  a  second  cousin  to  the  king  of  England.   They 
were  all  dressed  to  play  tennis.   I  was  introduced,  sickly 
as  I  was,  and  followed  them  down  through  the  most  beautiful 
gardens,  fantastic  gardens,  to  these  beautiful  tennis 
courts.   They  had  two  of  the  most  exciting  sets  of  doubles. 
They  were  just  marvelous.   The  Jam  Saheb  of  Nawangar  was  at 


that  time  the  head  of  the  chamber  of  princes,  educated  in 
Oxford,  and  a  brilliant  guy.   He  weighed  about  230  or  240 
pounds,  and  he  probably  wasn't  over  five  feet  six  high. 
But  I  think  you  could  say  he  was  floating  power.   He  had 
a  fantastic  ability  at  tennis  and  moved  very  beautifully 
on  the  court.   They  had  two  great  sets  of  tennis,  which  I 
thoroughly  enjoyed  watching,  lousy  as  I  felt. 

Finally  they  came  over  and  sat  down,  under  the  great 
awnings.   It  looked  like  a  real  Oriental  palace  certainly, 
down  there  with  all  those  pools  and  the  tennis  courts. 
They  were  having  drinks.   The  young  colonel--well ,  he 
wasn't  so  young.   He  was  probably  older  than  I  was.   I 
was  then  someplace  in  my  thirties ,  and  he  was  probably  in 
his  early  forties.   He  came  over  and  sat  down  beside  me, 
and  he  said,  "Tell  me  again,  what  was  your  name?"   I  told 
him.   He  smiled  in  the  funniest  way,  and  he  said,  "I  want 
you  to  come  with  me."   So  we  walked,  and  it  killed  me  to 
walk,  back  up  this  hill,  up  many,  many  steps--!  mean 
at  least  100  feet  up;  we  were  down  that  low--up  to  the 
viceregal  palace.   The  palace  was  laid  out  in  such  a  way 
that  there  was  a  main  central  part,  and  then  two  wings 
went  off  at  45-degree  angles  at  each  end.   One  of  those 
wings  was  his.   Being  related  to  the  king  and  being  aide 
to  the  viceroy,  he  had  a  real  position.   We  went  through 
a  living  room,  beautiful  quarters,  into  a  huge  library. 
He  walked  around  that  library  a  little  while,  and  then 


walked  around  that  library  a  little  while,  and  then  he  got 
on  a  little  ladder  and  went  up,  and  came  down  with  a  book. 
I  couldn't  believe  it,  but  it  was  a  book  that  was  published 
on  my  work  in  1938  [Millard  Sheets ,  by  Merle  Armitage] .   In 
addition  to  that,  he  had  four  magazines  that  I  had  things 
appear  in  in  England,  mainly,  the  London  Studio  magazine 
many  times  during  the  thirties.   It  turned  out  that  he  was 
a  watercolor  painter  and  that  he  absolutely  loved  to  paint 
more  than  anything  else.   But  serving  as  he  was  in  the  army, 
he  didn't  have  time  to  paint.   But  he  had  become  interested 
in  my  work  through  these  peculiar  circumstances  of  these 
books  and  magazines.   He'd  written  for  the  book,  having 
seen  the  magazines. 

Well,  as  a  result  of  that,  my  whole  experience  in 
India  was  changed  because  it  was  his  duty  as  the  aide  to 
the  viceroy  to  arrange  everything  that  went  on  in  the 
viceroy's  palace.   So,  through  Lord  [Victor  A.J.H.] 
Linlithgow,  the  viceroy,  who  was  only  there  for  about  six 
weeks  after  I  arrived,  I  was  invited  to  at  least  six  or 
seven  beautiful  parties,  including  dinner  parties  in  the 
viceregal  mansion  because  my  friend  wrote  the  lists  of 
guests.   I  got  to  know  him  and  enjoy  him  very  much,  and 
Linlithgow  was  an  interesting  character,  a  tall,  skinny 
guy  who  was  very  much  the  old-type  Englishinan,  the  old 
type  you'd  think  that  you  knew  ran  India.   When  they 
retired  him  and  brought  out  Lord  [Archibald  P.]  Wavell, 


who  was  the  General  Wavell  who  had  won  the  battle  of 
Africa,  you  had  a  totally  different  situation. 

Lord  Wavell  arrived  with  his  wife  and  their  daughter 
at  the  airport,  and  he  was  sworn  in  at  the  airport  as  the 
viceroy  of  India.   He  got  right  back  in  the  plane,  flew 
directly  to  Calcutta,  and  in  three  days  stopped  the  whole 
famine.   In  three  days  he  had  every  so-called  indigent  in 
rest  camps.   Some  of  them  were  too  far  gone  to  save,  but 
they  were  given  decent  treatment.   There  was  at  all  times 
ample  food.   There  was  no  lack  of  food.   This  was  a  political 
situation  where  human  life  meant  nothing,  and  it  was  a 
tragedy  to  beat  any  that  I  have  ever  witnessed.   I  wasn't 
in  Germany  when  Hitler  operated,  but  it  was  as  close  to 
that  kind  of  incredibility.   He  went  down,  moved  through 
that  area  for  about  three  or  four  days  in  helicopters  and 
various  other  ways,  and  stopped  the  whole  thing,  just  like 


He  came  back  and,  again,  I  continued  to  be  involved 
in  things  that  went  on  out  at  the  viceroy's  palace,  be- 
cause the  same  man  remained  as  his  aide.   I  thoroughly 
enjoyed  Lord  Wavell  and  his  wife  and  their  daughter.   They 
were  charming,  interesting,  very  simple  people,  and  I  don't 
know  how  many  times  I  had  dinner  with  just  the  Wavells  and 

this  young  colonel,  just  the  five  of  us.   I  did  get  to  know 

them,  both  Lord  and  Lady  Wavell,  quite  well. 

Later  on,  they  held  a  major  exhibition  of  war  artists. 


and  that  meant  all  the  free  artists.   There  were  some  French 
artists;  there  were  of  course  many  British  and  quite  a  few 
Americans  by  this  time.   It  was  an  exciting  experience,  and 
Mrs.  Wavell  was  really  a  tremendous  person.   Well,  I'm 
getting  ahead  of  my  story,  but  just  for  example,  after  I 
had  been  there  something  like  six  or  seven  months,  this 
exhibition  was  held,  and  I  had  a  great  many  paintings  from 
the  famine  and  a  great  many  of  the  war.   I  took  them  down 
to  have  them  put  into  the  exhibit,  then  I  went  back  to  the 
preopening  of  the  exhibit  to  be  with  Mrs.  Wavell  and  this 
young  colonel.   As  we  walked  through,  we  couldn't  find  my 
work.   It  simply  wasn't  on  view.   Finally  Mrs.  Wavell  asked 
the  question,  not  of  this  colonel  but  of  another  young 
colonel  who  hung  the  exhibit  where  my  paintings  were.   In 
a  rather  embarrassed  way,  he  opened  a  door  and  took  us  into 
a  room  that  was  simply  closed  off,  and  there  they  were  all 
hung.   She  had  the  greatest  dignity  I've  ever  known.   They 
turned  on  the  light  and  she  looked  at  every  picture  very 
carefully.   She  talked  to  me  about  each  one  of  them,  and 
then  after  she  had  really  looked  at  the  exhibit,  she  turned 
to  this  colonel  and  said,  "Colonel,  will  you  please  close 
the  exhibit  now,  and  I  expect  these  to  be  properly  hung 
tomorrow."   They  hung  them  there  because  of  the  political 
problem  of  the  famine,  but  that  wasn't  going  to  affect  Lady 
Wavell  for  one  second.   So  my  paintings  were  put  right  out 
in  the  middle  of  the  exhibition  the  next  morning  when  the 


thing  opened.   But  that's  the  kind  of  a  person  she  was,  and 
Lord  Wavell  was  the  same.   He  was  an  amazing  guy.   He  had 
lost  an  eye,  but  he  had  this  marvelous  spirit.   That  patch 
was  very  dominating  in  the  way  he  wore  it. 

I  quickly  learned  that  out  of  thirty-four  correspondents 
in  the  C-B-I  theater,  the  China-Burma-India  theater,  not  one 
of  them  was  at  the  front.   It  certainly  wasn't  because  they 
didn't  want  to  go.   The  British  had  the  final  control  and 
wouldn't  allow  them.   They  wouldn't  give  them  visas  to  go 
to  China.   They  wouldn't  let  the  orders  be  cut.   They 
wouldn't  let  them  go  where  the  fighting  was  down  in  South 
Burma,  which  was  the  Arakan.   Here  everyone  was,  tied  down, 
trying  to  write  stories  about  the  war  and  getting  it  all 
from  releases  that  were  very,  very  inconsequential.   That 
was  a  bad  experience,  just  to  be  there  with  a  bunch  of  guys 
that  had  not  enough  to  do.   They  would  write  their  stuff  in 
about  thirty  minutes  in  the  morning  and  then  hope  that  some 
of  it  would  be  filed.   It  was  very  exasperating.   My  greatest 
pleasure  was  to  go  to  the  races  with  the  colonel  on 
Saturdays,  where  they  had  fantastic  horse  racing.   I 
played  tenris  and  played  a  little  bit  of  squash.   I  would 
paint  most  of  the  day,  then  do  these  other  things  in  the 

free  time. 

Well,  it  was  at  that  time,  about  two  months  after  I 
arrived  in  India,  that  Lord  Mountbatten  arrived  as  the 
supreme  commander  of  the  whole  Far  East  theater.   Needless 


to  say,  again,  I  was  a  guest  at  the  first  dinner  for 
Mountbatten.   To  my  complete  pleasure  and  surprise,  I  sat 
at  his  right  at  a  small  table  for  five  people.   We  had  a 
most  pleasant  conversation.   He  was  a  charming  man,  full 
of  real  spirit  and  excitement  about  this  new  challenge  to 
him  to  put  it  all  together.   He  finally  got  around  to  saying, 
"Well,  what  are  you  doing  exactly  as  a  correspondent?"   I 
explained  very  simply  that  I  wasn't  doing  what  I  thought  I 
came  to  India  to  do,  which  was  to  go  to  war.   He  listened, 
and  I  finally  explained  that  there  were  thirty-four  people 
tied  down. 

He  said,  "Would  you  like  to  go  to  the  Arakan?"   I  said, 
"I  certainly  would."   He  clapped  [claps  hands]  his  hands  a 
couple  of  times,  and  from  among  all  the  aides  who  stood  up 
at  the  bar  eating  a  few  feet  away,  his  chief  aide  came  over. 
He  said,  "Get  in  touch  with  Air  Marshal  Joubert  immediately, 
and  set  up  a  flight  for  Mr.  Sheets  to  Chittagong.   When 
would  you  like  to  go,  Mr.  Sheets,  tomorrow?"   I  thought  he 
was  just  giving  me  a  leg- pulling  job,  and  I  said,  "No,  but 
I'd  like  to  go  the  day  after  tomorrow.   I  need  one  day  to 
get  ready."   He  said,  "Day  after  tomorrow,  set  up  a  flight, 
and  have  him  met  and  flown  by  a  small  plane  right  down  to 
the  front  on  the  next  day."   He  said,  "Then,  I  want  him  to 
be  with  Tony  Beauchamp,"  who  was  a  reporter  for  the  army, 
not  a  correspondent.   He  took  motion  pictures  and  documen- 
taries for  the  British  army.   This  all  happened  so  fast. 


He  said,  "You're  serious?"  I  said,  "Well,  you're  darn 
right  I'm  serious."  He  said,  "Well,  it's  all  set  up." 
He  called  me  personally  the  next  morning  and  said  that 
everything  had  been  completed. 

Well,  to  my  utter  surprise,  here  I  was  ready  to  go. 
I  covered  the  Arakan  battle  for  all  the  correspondents  in 
that  theater  for  two  months  because  none  of  them  were 
allowed  to  get  there.   I  got  word  back  to  them  from  which 
they  made  many  releases.   I  didn't  plan  to  be  a  war  corres- 
pondent, but  I  did  get  them  the  material  they  needed  to 
make  it  more  alive. 

Well,  I  arrived  down  there,  and  it  was  really  an 
experience.   Chittagong,  I'll  never  forget,  was  a  sort  of 
funny  airport  out  in  the  middle  of  the  jungle.   At  that 
time  they  were  having  sweeps  regularly  from  Zeroes  coming 
up  from  the  front,  and  they  were  losing  planes  and  having 
dogfights  all  over  the  place.   I  slept  in  a  basha .   The 
night  before,  they'd  gotten  a  boa  constrictor  ten  feet 
long  nearby  they  told  me.   I  thought  for  a  while  they  were 
just  pulling  my  leg,  but  I  found  out  they  actually  did  get 
him.   I  was  introduced  to  the  kind  of  horrible  food  that 
you  get  in  the  British  army.   I  was  introduced  with  one 
fell  swoop,  and  I  never  have  had  worse  food,  worse  every- 
thing, filthy,  which  was  because  of  the  fact  that  it  was 
impossible  to  keep  it  otherwise. 

I  was  then  flown  down  to  the -jungle.   I  landed  on  a 


little  airstrip,  where  some  British  fliers  were  flying 
that  marvelous  plane,  the  Spitfire.   It  was  the  first  time 
I  saw  a  fighting  strip  right  at  the  front.   There  was  a 
strip  cut  out  of  the  jungle,  a  very  heavy  jungle  there, 
and  then  there  were  these  little  side  cuts  where  they  kept 
the  airplanes.   After  they'd  get  a  call  that  the  Zeroes 
were  headed  up,  they  would  be  in  the  air  in  about  two  and 
a  half  minutes,  whether  they  were  in  bed  asleep  or  down  in 
the  bar  or  in  the  kitchen  or  wherever  they  might  be.   I 
never  saw  such  a  bunch  of  guys.   They  were  fellows  who  had 
been  flying,  by  this  time,  some  of  them,  four  and  a  half 
years.   They  had  been  in  France,  had  come  out  of  France, 
then  they  had  been  sent  to  Singapore  and  driven  the  full 
length  of  the  Malaya  peninsula. 

They  were  terrific  fighters.   In  fact,  the  first 
evening  I  was  there--I  was  there  two  evenings  before  I 
was  met  by  the  jeep,  and  in  two  evenings  we  had  two  sweeps 
of  Zeroes.   I've  never  seen  anything  like  when  they  took 
off.   The  gong  would  ring,  and  they'd  run  for  their  planes, 
The  idea  was  to  beat  the  other  guy  off,  and  there  was  no 
caution.   They'd  come  out  of  those  places,  and  if  two 
planes  were  side  by  side,  they'd  practically  lock  wings 
taking  off  together.   I've  never  seen  such  gutsy  guys. 
They  would  take  off,  and  there  were  dogfights.   A  couple 
of  them  were  shot  down.   The  pilots  escaped,  actually; 
they  parachuted  down.   But  it  was- my  first  introduction 
to  real  fighting. 


Then  I  was  met  by  Beauchamp,  who  was  a  marvelous 
fellow.   He  was  about  six  foot  two,  very  intelligent, 
extremely  handsome  and  artistic.   He  took  photographs, 
but  he  also  painted.   His  father  was  an  architect.   He 
had  a  lot  of  background  in  art.   We  really  had  quite  a 
time  together,  because  it  was  always  interesting  to  be 
with  him,  except  that  he  constantly  got  us  into  trouble. 
He  couldn't  get  enough  war.   He  couldn't  get  enough 
fighting,  so  we  always  got  into  scrapes. 

A  man  by  the  name  of  Sharp,  who  had  been  the  head  of 
news  in  London  for  the  BBC  for  all  the  war  up  to  that  time, 
was,  in  order  to  get  a  rest,  sent  to  India  and  then  to 
the  Arakan.   He  joined  us  for  about  four  days  and  rode 
around  in  our  jeep  with  us.   He  was  a  charming  guy  and  a 
terrific  conversationalist.   Beauchamp  talked  the  two  of 
us  into  a  real  thing.   He  said,  "Now,  tomorrow  there's 
going  to  be  the  most  incredible  fight,  an  attack  on  Bamboo 
Hill.   We've  been  trying  to  take  Bamboo  Hill  for  three 
solid  years.   Every  year  we've  made  an  attempt,  and  every 
year  we  can't  get  past  it.   We're  sometimes  driven  back 
farther,  but  we  never  can  get  past  Bamboo  Hill."   They 
jelly  bombed  it,  they  put  continuous  dive  bombing  on  it, 
long-range  artillery  on  it,  but  the  Japanese  would  just 
go  down  into  their  bunkers  and  play  pinochle  until  the 
bombing  was  over,  and  then  they'd  come  up  and  thumb  their 
noses  at  the  British.   You  could  see  them;  I  saw  them  many. 


many  times.   The  British  had  worked  for  months  to  get  some 
tanks  sent  out  to  the  Arakan,  and  they'd  assembled  them 
all  in  the  jungle,  but  they  couldn't  bring  them  out  without 
exposing  them.   So  for  three  nights,  every  night  they'd 
bring  them  down  slowly  towards  this  front.   And  this  attack 
was  going  to  be  the  next  morning.   Beauchamp  said,  "Now,  if 
you  two  guys  go  out  with  me,  I  can  bribe  one  of  the  sentries." 
He  led  us  out  until  we  were  right  in  the  middle  between  the 
two  lines,  and  there  was  a  place  there  where  we  could  park 
for  the  night.   Beauchamp  said  to  me,  "Next  morning,  when 
these  nine  tanks  are  ready  to  come  in,  Millard,  you  drive 
the  jeep,  get  right  in  as  close  as  you  can  to  that  big 
first  tank,  right  behind  it.   The  colonel  that's  in  charge 
of  this  tank  attack  will  be  in  it,  and  we'll  follow  him 
right  in.   And  then  at  a  certain  point"--and  he  showed  me 
a  map,  all  drawn  very  carefully — "we'll  make  a  hard  left 
turn  and  cut  off  and  get  behind  a  hill,  a  little  low  hill 
that  will  keep  us  protected." 

Well,  you  know,  you  get  kind  of  stirred  up.   You've 
seen  so  much  agony,  and  we  never  thought  they  were  ever 
going  to  do  anything  down  there.   I  had  seen  guys  just 
massacred.   I  went  through  part  of  that  time,  for  over 
thirty  days,  when  we  never  took  our  boots  off.   It  was 
during  the  monsoon,  and  the  rain  was  horrible.   We'd  been 
going  over  cliff  roads  and  being  shot  at,  and  just  things 
you  can't  believe.   Well,  this  night  we  did  what  he  said. 


It  was  a  semimoonlit  night,  only  semi.   We  drove  out,  and 
he  bribed  the  sentry,  and  we  got  out  in  front.   At  about 
200  yards  we  pulled  off  to  the  left,  where  grass  was  about 
five  feet  high.   We  drove  the  jeep  right  in,  and  we  had  a 
big  tarp  that  we  had  taken  for  this  purpose.   The  three  of 
us  pulled  it  out  as  tight  as  we  could,  and  we  got  the  four 
corners  and  pulled  them  out.   Then  we  just  stamped  on  the 
tarp  until  we  got  the  grass  down.   Here  we  were  sitting  in 
little  pockets  surrounded  by  the  high  grass.   We  just  had 
gotten  comfortably  settled  about  eight-thirty  at  night 
when  this  fantastic  artillery  fire  began  from  our  side 
shooting  over  toward  the  Japanese.   We  were  right  under 
it.   The  shells  were  going  over,  boom,  boom,  boom,  boom — 
just  so  close  you  couldn't  believe  it.   Then  they  started 
on  the  other  side.   We  could  hear  every  shell,  probably  no 
more  than  fifty  feet  above  us.   This  bombardment  went  on 
for  about  three  hours.   It  was  a  horrible  experience.   I'd 
never  sat  under  that  kind  of  canopy  before.   Finally  it 
stopped.   By  this  time  we  were  plenty  willing  to  go  to 
sleep.   We  had  our  bedrolls  and  I  went  to  sleep. 

In  a  couple  of  hours,  I  guess,  I  heard  the  most  un- 
earthly scream.   If  there  was  one  thing  that  we  didn't 
want  to  hear,  it  was  anybody  scream,  because  we  were  right 
out  in  the  middle  between  the  lines  and  we  didn't  know  how 
close  the  Japanese  were  to  us.   Sharp  was  just  screaming 
in  agony.   I  had  a  flashlight,  so  I  put  it  so  just  the 


tiniest  little  beam  of  light  came  through  between  my 
fingers.   As  I  hit  this  tiny  beam  of  light  on  his  face, 
the  biggest  bat  you'd  ever  seen,  that  had  been  absolutely 
fastened  to  the  front  of  his  face,  took  off.   He  was 
scratched  and  dug  and  clawed  by  this  creature,  and  his 
face  was  the  goddamnedest  mess  of  ribbons  you've  ever 
seen.   He  was  just  hysterical,  and  I  don't  blame  him. 
I  mean,  God  knows  if  he  had  any  idea  of  what  it  was  that 
was  on  his  face.   But  a  big  old  hairy  bat  that  was  at 
least  ten  inches  (and  maybe  bigger)  across  was  something 
to  scare  the  hell  out  of  you.   Well,  nobody  slept  anymore 
that  night.   I  put  my  face  right  straight  down  under  my 
blanket,  and  my  bedroll  up  over  my  head. 

We  waited  until  the  beginning  of  dawn  when  we  heard 
this  little  bit  of  rumbling,  so  we  jumped  up  and  picked 
up  our  cameras  and  got  into  the  jeep.   Of  course,  we 
never  undressed  or  anything  like  that.   We  got  into  the 
jeep,  and  I  got  behind  the  wheel.  Sharp  sits  on  the  little 
back  poop  deck,  and  Tony  Beauchamp  stood  up  right  beside 
me  in  the  jeep  with  his  camera.   He  had  an  old-fashioned 
camera,  the  kind  you  used  to  have  to  wind.   The  first 
tank  came  by  us  and  went  about  fifty  feet  up  ahead  and 
stopped.   So  I  drove  right  up  and  got  right  behind  it, 
very  close  to  it.   The  big  turret  door  opened,  and  the 
colonel  climbed  up  and  stuck  his  head  out  and  stood  there 
with  his  binoculars  to  study  the  scene  ahead. 


I  should  have  said  that  all  this  time  there  was  a 
fantastic  amount  of  bombing  going  on,  mostly  dive  bombing, 
which  was  followed  with  great  waves  of  Liberators.   Later 
I  flew  with  the  same  fellows  who  did  this,  so  I  knew  the 
story  from  both  ends.   There  were  about  five  planes  in 
each  echelon,  one  and  then  two  and  then  three.   The  lead 
bombardier,  at  a  certain  point  when  he  was  over  the  target 
with  his  bombsight,  would  cut  loose,  and  then  instantly 
the  others  would  cut  loose  following  his  release,  which 
made  a  saturation  bombing  out  of  it.   They  were  followed 
by  one  wave  after  another.   One  would  go  across  this  way, 
one  would  go  across  that  way,  and  so  forth.   They  were 
going  like  spokes  of  a  wheel  in  every  direction.   As  this 
particular  group  went  over,  and  they  were  coming  exactly 
toward  us,  I  was  watching  the  plane  up  there  above  me. 

All  of  a  sudden  I  realized  that  this  echelon  was 
coming  toward  us.   This  group  of  five  had  released  their 
bombs  too  late,  and  they  were  going  to  come  right  down 
our  way.   There  wasn't  any  question  in  the  world  about  it. 
Well,  there's  nothing  that  you  can  do.   I  knew  that  there 
was  no  way  those  bombs  were  going  to  miss  us. 

Later  I  talked  to  the  bombardier  himself  who  made 
that  mistake  as  well  as  with  the  captain  of  the  plane 
when  I  flew  with  them  four  or  five  months  later.   What 
had  happened  was  that  as  the  bombardier  went  over  the 
target — and  it  was  his  first  flight  and  he  was  excited — 


he  didn't  release  the  bomb  quite  in  time.   There  was  so 
much  ack-ack  in  the  air  and  there  were  so  many  Zeroes 
around,  that  instead  of  going  around  again,  he  let  go, 
only  maybe  three  seconds  or  four  seconds  beyond  where  he 
should  have  let  go. 

Well,  behind  us  were  the  rest  of  the  tanks,  and  then 
there  were  about  10,000  Gurkha  troops  and  a  lot  of  British 
troops  and  a  lot  of  Indian  troops.   They  had  evacuated  all 
the  natives  that  were  anywhere  near  this  area  a  week  before, 
to  a  village  back  about  three  miles.   What  happened  was 
that  the  first  bomb  struck  just  about  125  or  130  feet  from 
us,  and  then  from  there  on  they  went  for  three  miles.   It's 
the  most  incredible  thing  to  see  a  bomb  hit,  then  the 
cattle  in  the  fields  just  roll  over  and  the  men  the  same. 
It  was  like  a  fake  motion  picture,  an  incredible  experience 
of  seeing  so  many  people  die  and  so  instantly.   The  colonel 
who  was  looking  out  above  the  turrets  was  decapitated,  and 
his  head  fell  right  in  front  of  us.   The  only  thing  that 
saved  us  was  our  exact  location  in  relation  to  that  tank. 
We  were  so  close  to  it  that  it  served  as  a  shield.   Every- 
thing around  us,  behind  us,  and  in  front  of  us  was  knocked 
out.   Well,  there  was  complete  consternation  when  the 
colonel  was  killed,  but  some  men  climbed  up  and  pulled 
the  body  down,  somebody  else  took  his  place,  and  the  tank 
group  started. 

What  my  friend  Beauchamp  had  talked  us  into  was  that 


when  this  attack  starts,  we'll  be  able  to  take  photographs 
like  nobody's  ever  taken.   "We're  going  to  go  right  in  with 
a  tank  in  the  foreground  and  these  dive  bombers  and  the 
other  bombers  and  all  this  stuff,  and  we're  going  to  be 
perfectly  safe.   We'll  pull  off  to  the  side."   Well,  we 
went  in  just  like  he  planned  it.   By  this  time  there  was 
so  much  going  on,  there  was  such  a  terrible  bunch  of  con- 
fusion because  the  soldiers  had  been  killed  and  the  tank 
commander  killed  and  so  much  else  that  it  was  absolutely 
awful,   we  went  on  down  maybe  200  or  300  yards,  and  then 
we  made  our  quick  turn  to  the  left  and  parked  in  behind  a 
hill  that  was  about  as  high  as  this  room.   But  it  maybe 
was  150  feet  in  diameter,  something  like  that,  maybe  200 
feet.   It  had  fairly  tall  dead  grass  on  it,  about  like 
that.   [points]   Then  Beauchamp  said,  "Okay,  we're  going 
to  have  a  grandstand  seat.   We'll  just  climb  up  on  our 
bellies,  up  to  the  top  of  this  hill,  and  we'll  watch  the 
whole  thing."   Well,  it  didn't  sound  very  good  to  me,  but 
I  didn't  know  where  else  to  go,  so  we  climbed  up  and 
slithered  up  this  hill.   We  got  up  there,  and  we  were 
peeking  through  just  little  pieces  of  the  grass.   The 
tanks  were  going  on  in,  lumbering  in  and  shooting  like 
mad,  and  the  dive  bombers  were  coming  in.   There  was 
more  artillery  behind  us. 

All  of  a  sudden,  Beauchamp  just  stood  up  and  started 
panning  this  way  and  that  with  that  damned  camera  of  his. 


It  didn't  take  more  than  about  ten  seconds  before  the 
machine  guns  started  raking  our  hill.   Boy,  I  never  got 
as  close  to  the  ground  in  my  life.   We  were  just  barely 
over  the  hill  on  the  right  side.   And  we  crawled  away  from 
there  as  fast  as  we  could.   I  won't  repeat  the  things  that 
I  said  to  him.   He  thought  it  was  just  funny  as  hell.   In 
about  five  minutes  we're  in  a  new  place,  and  he  stands  up 
again,  and  we  have  a  repeat  performance.   That  went  on  for 
about  three  hours.   Every  little  while  he'd  get  up  and  take 
another  whack  at  it.   Finally,  I  just  got  as  near  as  I 
could  to  the  jeep  and  didn't  dare  move.   By  this  time, 
they're  dropping  mortar  fire.   You  know  what  a  mortar  is? 
It's  a  lob.   You  just  throw  something  over,  like  you'd 
throw  a  tennis  ball  over  a  fence.   This  stuff  was  going 
all  over.   It  was  enough  to  cure  me  for  all  time  of  the 

whole  idea  of  war. 

But  it  took  about  six  hours  before  we  felt  safe  enough 
to  get  in  that  jeep  and  make  a  run  for  it.   We  couldn't  go 
back  the  way  we  came  up— that  was  completely  a  fighting 
area— so  we  went  back  through  a  little  jungle  trail  (that's 
all  it  was)  and  finally  got  back.   That  was  a  real  intro- 
duction to  being  under  fire.   Of  course  we  had  a  lot  of  it. 

I  was  in  the  jungle  later  with  a  bunch  of  Welsh  troops 
that  had  been  fighting  for  four  solid  years  on  the  ground. 
They  didn't  even  get  letters  from  home.   They  didn't  write 
any  letters.   They  just  said,  "We're  on  borrowed  time,"  and 


I  think  something  like  10  percent  of  their  original  outfit 
was  alive.   They  had  been  in  Singapore,  and  they  had  been 
evacuated.   Their  stories  were  just  unbelievable,  they 
were  so  bad.   I  remember  being  up  there  with  those  fellows 
in  trenches  on  top  of  a  hill  and  watching  our  guys  trying 
to  go  down  into  the  ravine  and  then  climb  up  to  try  to  take 
Bamboo  Hill.   I  wrote  an  article  that  was  used  as  a  Life 
report  [Life ,  XVI: 23,  June  5,  1944] ,  one  of  their  editorials 
that  has  a  complete  account  of  that  incident.   Later  on  it 
was  chosen  as  one  of  the  accounts  in  the  war  that  was 
honored  by  being  put  in  a  special  book. 

But  these  are  things  that  you  just  have  to  experience 
in  order  to  understand.   I  don't  think  anybody  should  have 
to  experience  them — but  to  really  understand  what  a  hor- 
rifying situation  it  is  you  must.   Another  time  I  was  down 
in  a  little  ravine  behind  the  hill  where  I  was  living  with 
some  Tommies,  and  they  used  to  bring  tea  up  twice  a  day, 
with  open  buckets  tied  onto  the  backs  of  burros,  one  on 
each  side.   Of  course  the  so-called  tea  was  always  filled 
with  saccharine,  and  you  had  grasshoppers  and  bugs  of 
various  kinds.   You  never  had  a  lid  on  anything.   I  was 
standing  there  with  two  Tommies,  who  were  about  six  feet 
away  from  me.   We  were  talking,  and  they  gave  me  some  of 
this  lousy  tea,  then  they  started  right  down  our  ravine. 
From  Bamboo  Hill,  the  Japanese  were  lobbing  shells  over 
the  hill  where  the  trenches  were,  right  into  this  ravine. 


They  knew  the  terrain  so  well— they'd  been  over  it;  they 
knew  it--and  these  shells  came  bing,  bing ,  bing,  just  like 
that.   A  shell  hit  the  ground  about  twenty  feet  away,  just 
absolutely  cut  off  the  face  of  one  of  the  men.   The  other 
guy  was  killed,  but  I  wasn't  scratched,  never  even  scratched. 
It  killed  the  donkey.   I  was  standing  on  the  other  side  of 
the  donkey  and  I  think  it  shielded  me.   I  don't  remember 
what  it  was,  but  such  things  happened  so  many  times  in  the 
war  that  I  just  couldn't  believe  it. 

I  think  one  of  the  weirdest  experiences  was  when  I  was 
still  in  Delhi.   I  had  charge  of  seven  artist  correspondents 
from  Life.   As  they  would  arrive  one  by  one,  I  would  assign 
them  different  parts  of  the  area.   Of  course,  I  set  up  the 
idea  that  I  was  going  to  go  to  China;  that  was  for  me.   I 
waited  until  the  last  man  arrived,  an  old,  old  friend  of 
mine  from  San  Francisco,  an  artist  named  Lucien  Labaudt, 
who  I'd  known,  a  remarkable  fellow.   He  was  in  his  fifties, 
and  I  was  in  my  thirties.   When  he  arrived,  he  was  the  last 
man  I  had  to  send  out  to  a  particular  place.   So  he  said, 
"Where  am  I  to  go?"   I  said,  "You're  going  to  go  to  upper 
Burma,  and  you're  going  to  work  around  the  Merrill 
Marauders"  that  were  being  trained  there.   "Oh,  no,  I've 
got  to  go  to  China."   I  said,  "Well,  you  can  go  to  China, 
we'll  all  go  to  China,  but  we're  going  to  take  turns."   I 
said,  "My  orders  are  cut,  and  I'm  leaving  on  Monday."   This 
was  on  Thursday.   I  said,  "I'm  going,  I've  been  waiting 


here  for  two  and  a  half  months  to  go."   He  said,  "Millard, 
I  just  have  got  to  go  to  China  or  I  can't  stand  it."   I 
thought  he  was  going  to  cry.   Finally  I  said,  "Well,  I 
don't  think  there's  a  chance  that  I  can  get  your  orders 
cut.   Yours  are  cut  for  the  other  place." 

But  here,  again,  is  one  of  those  things.   Way  back  in 
the  early  days  here,  I  knew  the  commanding  general  socially, 
I  called  him  up,  and  I  told  him  the  situation.   He  said, 
"Well,  my,  you  don't  ask  for  much,  do  you?   Hell,  you  can't 
do  this,  according  to  regulations."   I  said,  "I  know,  but 
this  man  is  a  remarkable  artist.   He's  a  very  good  artist, 
and  he's  an  old  friend  of  mine.   If  it  means  that  much  to 
him,  hell,  let's  let  him  go  up  there  for  a  month  or  two, 
and  then  I'll  go  up.   Or  I'll  go  up  anyway."   So  finally 
he  said,  "Well,  all  right,  I'll  see  if  I  can  get  him  cut." 
So  he  did  the  next  day.   It  was  Friday.   He  called  up  and 
said,  "Okay,  I've  got  the  orders  cut  and  I  think  you  ought 
to  give  me  a  dinner  party  for  this."   So  we  made  it  a 
celebration  for  the  artist  and  for  the  general  and  for  a 
couple  of  other  friends  of  mine,  correspondents.   We  had 
a  beautiful  dinner  party,  and  we  really  gave  Labaudt  a 
send-off.   I  was  heartbroken  inside,  but  at  the  same  time 
I  knew  how  much  it  meant  to  him,  and  I  thought,  well,  what 
the  hell,  I  can  go  where  I  want  to  later. 

So  we  took  him  down  to  the  plane  on  Monday  morning, 
real  early,  a  plane  to  go  down  to  Agra,  where  the  Taj  Mahal 


is.   There  he  was  to  catch  the  plane  up  to  northern  Burma 
and  then  over  the  hump.   We  gave  him  a  hell  of  a  send-off, 
and  away  he  went. 


DECEMBER  10,  1976 

SHEETS:   Late  that  same  afternoon  I  was  cleaning  up  after 
painting,  and  one  of  the  Life  photographers  rushed  in  and 
said,  "Millard,  what  was  Labaudt ' s  first  name?"   I  said, 
"What  do  you  mean  'what  was'?"   He  said,  "He  was  killed 
on  the  plane  that  you  were  going  on."   I  said,  "How  in  the 
world  .  .  .  ?   What  do  you  mean?"   He  said,  "Well,  what 
happened  was  that  he  went  down  to  Agra,  and  everybody  was 
loaded  on  board  the  plane.   A  fighter  pilot,  a  major  who 
was  very  famous  out  there,  walked  into  the  cockpit  and 
said,  'Captain,  I'm  going  to  fly  this  today  up  to  Burma 
and  then  over  the  hump.'   The  young  pilot  asked  him,  'Have 
you  been  checked  out  on  these  twin  motor  planes?'   He  said, 
•Oh,  yes.   Get  over.'   So  without  going  through  the  routine 
of  really  checking  him  out,  he  let  the  major  fly.   Well,  he 
came  over  this  big  airport  up  in  northern  Burma,  and  he 
undershot  the  field  by  1,000  feet,  and  everybody  was  killed, 
That  was  the  plane  that  I  would  have  been  on. 

This  thing  happened  so  many  times.   Here  I  lost  one 
of  my  closest  friends,  but  time  after  time  when  I  was 
flying  bombing  missions,  there  were  similar  situations. 
I  would  fly  with  a  group  for  maybe  a  week  or  two  or  three, 
get  into  a  card  game  one  night,  a  poker  game,  and  somebody 
would  say,  "Why  don't  you  fly  with  this  intelligence  group 


tomorrow?"   I'd  say,  "Okay,"  and  I'd  go  with  them  the  next 
night,  and  the  crew  I'd  been  flying  with  were  killed  that 
night.   It  just  happened  so  many  times  it's  just  kind  of 
like  a  bad,  funny  dream.   But  the  Arakan  campaign  was  a 
pathetic  thing  because  they  never  gained  a  mile  in  that 
whole  campaign  that  year,  and  thousands  of  men  were  ter- 
ribly wounded  or  killed. 

One  night  while  we  were  there  the  Japanese  infiltrated. 
(You  don't  have  nice,  clean  front  lines  in  this  jungle 
fighting.)   'They  infiltrated  what  would  have  been  called 
the -front,  and  20  0,000  Japanese  came  through.   They  got 
seventy-five  miles  behind  the  British  lines,  attacked 
general  headquarters,  and  killed  the  three  generals  under 
the  commanding  general.   The  only  way  he  escaped  was  by 
jumping  over  a  cliff  and  hiding  in  the  jungle.   The  British 
were  in  terrible  consternation,  and  they  thought  that  this 
was  it,  but  they  reassembled  their  forces  and  counter- 
attacked.  I'm  ashamed  to  say  this,  but  as  far  as  I  know, 
they  never  took  a  prisoner  of  the  200,000.   They  just 
slowly  eliminated  them. 

A  good  friend  of  mine,  another  correspondent,  working 
with  UP  [United  Press]  ,  who  later  went  down  to  the  Arakan 
when  the  British  did  let  some  correspondents  go,  was  walking 
where  he  thought  he  was  twenty  miles  behind  the  front,  and 
a  Japanese  shot  him  through  the  buttocks  from  up  in  a  tree. 
This  sniper  was  still  there  long  after  the  Japanese  were 


driven  out.   He  got  a  Purple  Heart,  which  was  hung  on  the 
seat  of  his  pants  at  the  presentation.   These  were  incredible 

experiences . 

But  after  being  with  the  British  about  two  months,  I 
got  some  kind  of  fever  again.   They  didn't  know  what  it 
was,  so  they  sent  me  back  to  Delhi,  where  Life  had  an 
apartment  for  its  people  which  could  take  three  or  four 
men  but  generally  one  or  two  would  be  there  at  a  time. 
It  was  there  that  I  met  Eric  Sevareid  on  his  way  up  to 
China.   Then  later,  after  he  had  made  his  famous  jump  from 
a  crippled  plane  on  a  flight  over  the  hump,  landing  among 
Naga  tribesmen  and  walking  out  for  twenty-seven  days,  he 
stayed  in  my  apartment.   We've  been  very  good  friends  ever 


At  Christmastime,  I  had  a  marvelous  ten  days  up  at 
Udaipur,  where  I  was  sent  for  a  rest  cure,  and  it  was  a 
great  chance  to  paint.   It  was  fantastically  beautiful  and 
interesting.   I  went  back  seven  years  ago,  and  it  hasn't 
changed  an  iota.   It's  something  that  I  had  always  talked 
about,  and  my  wife  and  I  wanted  to  see  it  together.   We 
thoroughly  enjoyed  it. 

After  that  I  went  down  to  Pandavesvar,  which  was 
about  sixty  miles  west  northwest  of  Calcutta,  where  we 
had  our  Tenth  Air  Force  headquarters.   This  was  the  head- 
quarters for  all  the  Liberator  bombers.   General  Davidson, 
the  commander,  was  another  man  who  I  had  known,  even  long 


before  the  air  school  days.   His  wife  had  studied  painting 
with  me  way  back  when  he  was  stationed  at  March  [Air  Force 
Base]  at  Riverside  and  I  was  teaching  at  Claremont,  so  it 
was  great  to  be  with  him.   The  bombing  missions  were  going 
on  every  day  or  sometimes  twice  a  day  all  over  north  Burma. 
I  was  on  the  longest  mission  that  was  ever  flown  by  a 
Liberator  in  the  war.   It  was  a  mission  to  100  miles  south 
of  Bangkok,  all  the  way  from  Pandavesvar.   The  planes  took 
off  at  fifteen-minute  intervals  and  nineteen  bombers  went 
out  that  night.   As  there  was  a  complete  undercast  and  a 
complete  overcast,  there  was  no  way  we  could  sight  anything, 
so  it  was  all  done  by  navigation.   We  flew  for  so  many  hours 
south  over  the  Indian  Ocean,  and  then  we  turned  at  a  certain 
moment  and  flew  over  the  Malaya  peninsula.   I  never  saw  it. 
Eventually,  we  were  way  south  of  Rangoon,  clear  across  those 
high  mountains.   In  fact,  the  map  showed  that  there  wasn't 
any  mountain  higher  than  10,000  feet,  and  we  were  flying  at 
10,000  feet.   But  the  only  time  we  saw  anything  was  when 
there  was  a  little  bit  of  moonlight  and  we  saw  a  peak  that 
must  have  been  at  least  2,000  feet  higher  than  we  were, 
which  we  saw  in  time  and  went  around.   Then  we  descended 
in  the  dark  and  with  no  visible  sight  until  we  got  under- 
neath the  undercast.   We  came  out  at  about  4  00  feet. 

It's  incredible—I  know  it  couldn't  have  been  accidental- 
but  dead  ahead  of  us  were  the  islands  that  we  were  supposed 
to  bomb.   The  Japanese  had  built  about  twenty-five  big 


concrete  gasoline  tanks  on  these  islands,  which  were  off- 
shore about  five  miles.   As  we  came  in,  climbing  to  about 
1,500  feet,  the  bombardier  was  all  set.   By  his  reckoning 
and  the  navigation,  we  went  in  for  the  bomb  run.   I  was 
lying  on  my  belly  underneath  the  flight  deck  with  my  head 
hanging  out  the  bomb  bay  door ,  and  I  watched  the  bombs  go 
out.   You're  supposed  to  count  maybe  two  seconds  for  the 
bombs  to  land,  but  before  I  could  count  one  second  the 
whole  damn  place  blew  up.   There  was  a  plane  close  ahead 
of  us  that  had  hit  half  a  second  ahead  of  us.   We  just  tore 
that  place  from  hell  to  breakfast  and  then  discovered  there 
was  a  fleet  of  Japanese  ships  in  the  lee  of  these  islands. 
Our  damn  captain  thought  it  would  be  smart,  having  gotten 
all  the  bombs  away,  to  go  down  and  strafe  them  for  one 
last  push.   That's  one  of  the  many  times  in  the  war  that 
I  thought,  "Well,  there  is  no  way  you  can  go  one  minute 
beyond  this."   It's  strange  what  happened  to  me  every  time 
that  happened,  and  that  is  a  sense  of  utter  peace.   I  can't 
tell  you  why.   Fear  goes  out  the  window.   It  isn't  because 
you're  brave.   It's  just  something  that  the  human  body  does 
or  the  spirit  or  something  that  makes  you  feel  like  it's 
inevitable.   You'd  had  a  hell  of  a  good  ride  up  till  now, 
and  that's  it.   Tracer  bullets  were  coming  up  our  tail, 
and  a  man  was  killed  in  the  cockpit  that  night.   It  was 
just  incredible.   Yet  somehow  we  got  out  of  there,  and  we 
headed  back  to  India.   We  were  a  little  bit  crippled,  but 


not  too  much,  but  we  had  a  bad  wind  situation.   Of  course 
those  planes  in  those  days  didn't  have  controlled,  pres- 
surized cabins.   We  ended  up  landing  on  the  mud  of  the 
JuTuna  delta,  and  then  we  had  to  be  flown  out  by  helicopters. 
The  airplane  was  finished,  and  there  was  no  way  of  getting 
out  by  any  other  method. 

On  other  missions,  we  flew  over  Rangoon;  we  flew  over 
Mandalay;  we  flew  over  all  sorts  of  areas  in  north  Burma. 
We  flew  on  a  cover  mission  when  a  big  glider  attempt  was 
made  to  take  a  section  of  Burma  1,000  miles  behind  the 
Japanese  lines.   That  was  a  weird  experience.   They  took 
over  500  gliders,  towed  them  into  the  area,  and  cut  them 
loose.   The  problem  was  that  as  they  went  down,  they 
couldn't  get  out  of  the  way  of  the  next  glider.   More  men 
were  killed  that  way  than  any  other  way.   But  they  did  get 
the  bulldozers  on  the  ground,  and  they  did  clear  the  ground 
up  to  where  they  could  bring  fighter  planes  and  other  planes 
in  with  materiel.   We  held  that  position  until  the  end  of 
the  war.   It  was  a  very  important  strategic  venture,  but  a 
very  costly  one. 

We  were  in  every  kind  of  situation:   night  fighting 
and  day  fighting.   I've  seen  enough  Zeroes  to  last  me  for- 
ever and  then  some.   But  it  was  an  experience  that  you 
can't  possibly  measure  because  it  affects  your  sense  of 
values  and  your  sense  of  how  good  life  is. 
GOODWIN:   You  never  got  to  China? 


SHEETS:   I  never  got  to  China.   It's  incredible.   The  reason 
I  finally  came  back  was  on  a  temporary  junket  to  New  York. 
There  was  so  much  political  chicanery  going  on  out  there, 
and  we  knew  by  the  grapevine  that  [General  Joseph  W.] 
Stilwell  was  going  to  be  fired.   That  group  of  correspon- 
dents— and  that  didn't  include  people  like  me;  it  included 
really  great  foreign  correspondents  who  had  spent  their 
lives  in  the  area  and  knew  everything  about  the  history 
and  the  culture  of  the  country — they  knew  the  position 
that  Stilwell  occupied.   He  was  born  in  China,  he  had  a 
great  feeling  about  China,  and  he  was  very  hep  to  the  fact 
that  Chiang  Kai-shek  wasn't  really  fighting  the  war,  but 
was  saving  all  the  materiel  and  his  men  to  fight  the 
Communis ts--which  maybe  was  a  good  idea,  but  nevertheless 
it  didn't  fit  into  the  scheme  of  things.   It  soon  became 
apparent  toward  the  very  end  of  my  trip  that  [Stilwell] 
was  going  to  be  demoted  or  fired.   [phone  rings;  tape 
recorder  turned  off]   Arch  [Archibald]  Steele  and  Teddy 
[Theodore]  White  and  a  whole  group  of  men  that  distinguished 
themselves  certainly  for  their  knowledge  of  the  area  and 
the  background  and  the  history  were  terribly  perturbed 
about  this  demotion  and  felt  that  they  had  to  get  the 
word  to  Washington.   The  British  would  not  let  anything 
go  out  through  censorship.   No  way.   So  finally  I  prevailed 
upon  my  friend  Lord  Mountbatten,  saying  that  I  just  had  to 
go  back  home.   I  needed  to  do  some  things,  but  I  would  come 


right  back.   The  British  wrote  up  the  most  marvelous  orders 
for  me  to  go  home,  and  I  was  the  only  one  allowed  to  go. 
Needless  to  say,  I  spent  a  lot  of  time  with  the  correspon- 
dents to  put  the  story  together  properly,  through  their 
eyes  and  their  background  and  their  knowledge,  and  I  took 

I  had  an  incredible  trip  back  to  the  United  States, 
expecting  fully  to  return,  but  due  to  the  circumstances  it 
was  never  possible.   But  the  trip,  I'll  briefly  touch  on. 
I  went  down  to  Delhi  to  wait  my  turn,  and  there  were  long, 
long  lines  of  fellows  who  had  orders  to  leave  as  they  were 
due  for  a  return  for  one  reason  or  another.   It  would  take 
anywhere  from  two  to  seven  or  eight  days  to  get  on  a  plane. 
In  those  days  the  C-54  was  the  biggest  thing  afloat,  and 
they  didn't  carry  more  than  about  forty  passengers. 

While  I  was  down  there,  I  ran  into  Colonel  Wurl ,  a 
man  who  I  had  flown  many,  many  bombing  missions  with,  a 
wonderful  guy.   I  met  him  in  the  lunchroom,  and  he  said, 
"What  are  you  doing?"   I  said,  "I'm  going  home."   He  said, 
"Well,  so  am  I.   I'm  taking  a  famous  airplane  back.   We're 
going  to  use  it  in  the  United  States.   All  my  men  have 
completed  their  missions.   I've  got  a  catch-up  crew.   It 
isn't  my  regular  crew,  but  it's  a  group  of  different  people 
that  are  ready  to  go  back.   Why  don't  you  go  with  us? 
We're  going  to  have  a  Cook's  tour.   We're  going  to  go  to 
the  Holy  Land"--which  is  now,  of  course,  Israel--"we ' re 


going  to  Egypt,  we're  going  to  go  over  the  battlefields  of 
North  Africa,  and  then  we're  going  to  head  down,  cross  the 
Atlantic  to  South  America  and  get  back  to  the  United  States." 
Well,  I  had  made  a  date  with  my  wife  as  to  when  I'd  get  home; 
the  date  had  been  made  in  the  most  difficult  way  because  you 
couldn't  put  a  date  in  the  letter.   You  couldn't  say  any- 
thing about  when  or  where  you'd  be  arriving.   But  by  piecing 
a  bunch  of  things  together  in  about  ten  letters,  I  figured 
that  she  would  get  the  idea  that  I  wanted  her  to  meet  me  in 
New  York,  because  I  had  no  thought  that  I  could  get  back  to 
California  at  all.   I  was  going  to  be  in  New  York  briefly 
and  then  return  to  India.   So  in  talking  with  him  I  found 
out  that  they  figured  out  it  would  take  about  so  long,  and 
maybe  if  everything  was  right,  I  would  be  two  or  three  days 
late.   But  even  that  gamble  bothered  me  because  I  knew  she 
was  coming  across  country  on  the  train  and  that  things  were 
going  to  be  tough.   We  were  pretty  darn  broke  because  the 
salary  in  those  days  was  so  little. 
GOODWIN:   What  was  it? 

SHEETS:   By  comparison.   Oh,  goodness,  I  made  so  much  more 
on  my  own  than  I  could  make  as  a  correspondent  for  Life 
magazine.   We  had  just  built  a  huge  house,  and  we  had  all 
sorts  of  obligations,  four  kids,  and  the  problems  were 
very,  very  complicated.   So  finally  I  said,  "Well,  Colonel, 
I  just  know  how  exciting  it  would  be."   I  said,  "I'd  rather 
do  it  than  anything  in  the  world,  but  I  can't  do  it  because 


I  have  to  be  back."   (I  didn't  mention  my  wife,  because  you 
didn't  in  those  days.   You  know  that  kind  of  a  situation.) 
I  said,  "I'll  gamble  to  this  extent:   I  know  I  can  get  to 
Karachi  in  a  couple  of  days,  according  to  my  orders,  and 
if  I'm  still  in  Karachi  when  you  get  there"— they  were 
completely  fixing  up  this  airplane,  working  on  the  motors— 
"I'll  go  with  you  happily,  believe  me.   Otherwise,  I'll  have 

to  go  on . " 

In  those  days,  the  only  way  you  could  get  home,  unless 
you  were  a  general  or  something  very  close  to  a  general  or 
a  very  high  diplomatic  person,  you  went  into  Karachi  and 
then  you  went  down  through  central  Africa  and  across  to 
South  America  and  up.   Only  a  few  people  went  the  northern 
route:   Tripoli  to  Casablanca,  the  Azores,  and  then  across. 
So  knowing  this,  I  got  to  Karachi,  and  I  was  there  when  the 
first  B-29s  arrived,  which  was  a  tremendous  experience.   Oh 
my  God,  it  was  unbelievable.   The  husband  of  Amelia  Earhart, 
George  Putnam,  was  the  PR  officer  for  that  group,  and  we 
were  friends.   He  woke  me  up  in  the  middle  of  the  night  one 
night,  saying,  "What  are  you  doing  here?"   I  went  out  and 
went  all  through  the  B-29s  and  had  an  exciting  morning  there, 
I  was  set  to  go  on  a  C-54  at  three  o'clock  in  the  afternoon. 
At  one  o'clock  in  the  afternoon.  Colonel  Wurl  flew  in.   I 
was  both  happy  and  unhappy  at  the  same  moment.   Of  course 
I  wasn't  worried  about  my  passage  because  there  were  at 
least  150  guys  waiting  for  a  no-show.   So  when  I  went  over 


and  checked  out  at  the  counter  and  told  them  that  I  was 
going  with  my  friend  Colonel  Wurl  they  were  delighted. 

Well,  we  took  off,  and  it  was  a  long  flight.   We  went 
up  first  to  Abadan,  and  that's  the  first  place  I'd  ever 
seen  Russian  fliers.   We  were  turning  over  planes  like  mad 
to  the  Russians,  and  they  had  their  camp  all  covered  with 
barbed  wire,  and  everything  was  black.   They  would  dive  in 
like  they  were  crazy,  out  around  the  field,  and  our  guys 
were  supposed  to  fly  straight  and  level.   There  was  a  lot 
of  feeling  there.   But  it  was  an  interesting  experience. 
It  was  120  [degrees]  in  the  shade.   They  said  that  was 
really  cooling  off.   It  had  been  about  160  there. 

We  left  the  next  day,  and  it  was  so  exciting.   We 
landed  at  Tel  Aviv,  where  we  immediately  rented  a  car  and 
a  driver  and  went  up  to  Jerusalem.   We  spent  two  days  in 
Jerusalem,  which  was  a  fantastic  experience.   You  couldn't 
believe  how  beautiful  it  was.   We  went  to  Bethlehem,  and 
we  saw  everything.   There  was  no  strife,  no  Arabs  to  keep 
you  from  crossing  lines.   We  had  a  marvelous  trip. 

I  remember  one  incredible  incident.   We  had  a  very 
nice  guy,  a  most  devout  Catholic  boy  from  Minnesota.   He 
was  a  great  big  gunner,  a  huge  guy.   When  we  went  to  the 
famous  church  where  Christ  was  born,  which  was  built  right 
over  the  crypt,  we  got  down  there,  and  it  seems  that  the 
crypt  is  used  constantly  all  day  and  a  good  part  of  the 
night  with  different  kinds  of  church  services,  different 


religions  of  the  world.   At  this  time,  a  group  of  Greek 
Orthodox  priests  were  there,  and  they  were  throwing  these 
things  around,  making  smoke  signals  and  chanting  and  what- 
not.  This  young  guy  who  was  such  a  devout  Catholic  [laughter] 
kept  getting  a  little  closer  and  a  little  closer,  and  finally 
with  his  hobnails  on  the  top  step,  his  feet  slid  out  from 
under  him  and  he  went  right  down  those  steps  absolutely  flat 
on  his  back,  lying  right  underneath  the  whole  ceremony.   He 
was  so  mortified,  he  just  thought  that  he  had  to  kill  him- 
self.  He  couldn't  stand  it,  it  hurt  him  so  much.   He  just 
couldn't  believe  it.   We  had  the  worst  time  with  that  guy. 
It  was  worse  than  during  the  war,  trying  to  get  him  to  think 
that  he  was  not  going  to  be  eternally  damned. 

We  left  there  and  went  to  Egypt,  where  we  had  two 
beautiful  days.   Then  we  took  off  at  dawn  to  fly  the  battle- 
fields of  North  Africa.   Stuff  was  still  smoking,  a  lot  of 
it,  as  it  had  been  less  than  two  or  three  weeks  before  that 
the  British  had  finally  whipped  the  Germans.   There  were 
tanks  and  trucks  and  buildings.   We  flew  at  400  or  500 
feet,  and  had  an  absolutely  Cook's  tour  of  the  area. 

Then  finally,  after  going  by  Tobruk  and  all  of  those 
places  for  hours,  it  seemed  like,  we  took  off  right  across 
the  Mediterranean  toward  Tripoli.   At  that  time  the  Germans 
were  still  coming  down  with  their  fighters  and  sweeping  the 
Mediterranean,  just  with  ease.   They  didn't  have  anything 
to  keep  them  from  doing  it.   We  were  a  little  bit  skittish 


about  that  area.   But  we  were  flying  along  there,  straight 
and  level,  and  I  was  sound  asleep  in  the  waist,  when  all 
the  bells  went  off,  the  jingle,  jangle  stuff.   I  sat  up  and 
picked  up  the  intercom  immediately  and  listened,  and  looked 
out  when  I  heard  them  say  our  outboard  motor  on  the  left 
side  was  on  fire.   God,  I  never  saw  such  flame  in  my  life. 
Those  Liberators  are  funny  airplanes,  anyway.   It  wasn't 
over  five  minutes  later  that  the  inboard  motor  on  the  same 
side  caught  fire.   Well,  the  captain  started  asking  questions, 
issuing  orders.   He  wanted  to  know  where  the  nearest  airfield 
was.   He  wanted  a  lot  of  things,  and  he  told  different  guys 
to  do  different  things.   It  was  really  incredible  to  listen 
to  all  this,  to  hear  how  these  people  can  think,  and  this 
guy  Colonel  Wurl  was  something. 

He  found  out  that  the  nearest  airfield  was  something 
like  200  miles,  right  on  the  edge  of  a  cliff  on  the 
Mediterranean,  but  it  was  200  miles  just  at  a  right  angle 
turn  south.   So  we  headed  for  it,  and  we  were  all  ordered 
to  put  on  our  Mae  Wests  and  told  that  we  might  have  to 
jump  any  minute,  because  if  the  fire  got  any  worse,  the 
whole  plane  might  blow  up.   It  wasn't  a  very  easy  200 
miles  because  they  couldn't  make  very  fast  time.   I  think 
it  took  over  an  hour,  as  a  matter  of  fact,  even  though  we 
were  very  high  when  we  started  and  were  diving  all  the  time. 
Finally  Wurl,  about  halfway,  put  the  fire  out  by  diving  so 
fast  that  he  cut  it  down.   [phone  rings;  tape  recorder 


turned  off]   We're  diving  very  fast  toward  the  coast,  and 
finally  we  can  see  it.   I  never  believed  we  were  ever  going 
to  make  that  coast.   I  thought  we  were  going  to  end  up  in 
that  water  with  the  Mae  Wests.   But  we  made  it.   When  he 
came  in  to  make  a  landing,  he  had  his  left  wing  straight 
up,  flying  absolutely  vertically.   He  came  down  and  he  got 
within  about— I  don't  know,  it  seemed  like  five  feet,  but 
it  was  probably  fifty  feet  from  the  ground  when  he  just 
flopped  that  wing  down.   And  when  he  hit  the  ground,  he 
hit  it  so  hard,  by  just  the  change  in  that  maneuver  and 
everything  else,  that  we  bounced  at  least  fifty  feet  high. 
I  didn't  think  anything  would  hang  on  the  plane— of  course, 
everybody  was  strapped  down.   I  think  the  second  bounce  was 
twenty  feet  high.   And  the  whole  plane  just  shook. 

Well,  we  went  on  down  this  little  tiny  fighter  strip 
that  the  Germans  had  used  during  the  time  when  they  were  in 
Africa,  and  it  was  probably  not  over  8  00  feet  long.   This 
Liberator,  with  no  controls,  really,  landed  and  hit  that 
thing,  bounced  these  two  or  three  times  and  then  rolled 
right  on  past  the  end  of  the  runway  into  the  desert  into 
the  great  sand  dunes— bumpity,  bumpity,  bump.   Finally  we 
came  to  an  unbelievable  stop.   The  colonel  called  out  and 
said,  "Everyone  report  in.   Are  you  all  right?"   Everyone 
reported  in  by  intercom.   Nobody  was  hurt,  but  we  were  sure 
shaken  up.   Finally  Wurl  said,  "All  right,  let's  get  out  of 
this  airplane.   This  is  still  not  the  safest  place  to  be 


because  of  those  fires.   We  don't  really  know  what's  going 
on."   The  bomb  bay  doors  were  jammed,  and  we  had  an  awful 
time  getting  them  open.   The  only  way  out  of  those  Liberators 
was  to  go  down  through  the  bomb  bay  doors,  which  are  about 
two  and  a  half  feet  from  the  ground. 

We're  just  crawling  out  from  under  this  thing,  when 
down  the  runway— and  it  was  a  good,  big  quarter  of  a  mile 
away— came  a  jeep  going  like  a  bat  out  of  hell  with  a  guy 
with  a  bullhorn  saying,  "Don't  move,  don't  move.   The  whole 
area  is  mined."   The  British  had  mined  it  to  keep  the 
Germans  from  coming  in  there.   To  cut  a  long  story  short, 
it  took  three  hours  for  them  to  come  out  with  mine  detectors, 
clearing  a  very  funny  path.   Finally  they  got  to  us,  and  they 
walked  us  out  one  at  a  time  through  that  whole  minefield. 
How  we  ever  went  through  that  minefield  without  blowing  it 
it  up  is  just  miraculous.   The  Tommies  couldn't  understand 
it;  there  was  no  way  they  could  explain  it. 

So  we  get  back  finally  to  these  three  little  dumb  tents 
that  were  there,  and  by  this  time  the  wind  has  come  up.   It 
was  weird,  really  weird.   The  last  part  of  that  walk,  I 
couldn't  see  anything  below  my  knees.   The  sand  was  shifting 
so  fast  that  it  was  like  walking  in  water.   No  dust  or  any- 
thing above  the  knees,  but  just  this  weird  feeling  of  the 
whole  desert  moving  under  you.   You  can't  believe  it.   We 
got  up  to  this  little  tent,  and  Colonel  Wurl  checked  in 
with  the  commanding  officer  and  told  him  who  he  was  and 


said,  "I've  got  to  get  a  message  immediately  to  Cairo  that 
we're  down."   The  officer  said,  "Well,  I  can  send  that  kind 
of  a  message,"  which  he  did.   Then  I  said,  "Well,  I'm  not 
really  attached  to  this  plane,  and  I  have  to  get  out  of 
here.   Can  I  send  a  message?"   He  said,  "No  personal  mes- 
sages whatsoever."   I  said,  "Well,  this  isn't  a  personal 
message.   I  have  orders."   He  said,  "No,  no  way."   I  said, 
"Where's  the  nearest  railroad?   Where's  the  nearest  auto- 
mobile road?"   He  started  to  laugh  and  said  the  nearest 
railroad  is  175  miles  through  solid  desert,  the  automobile 
road  is  125.   "Right  out  there  is  the  marble  arch  that 
Mussolini  built  to  celebrate  his  victory  over  Ethiopia. 
But  that  road  doesn't  go  anywhere,  and  it  doesn't  come  any- 
where.  There  it  is."   He  said,  "An  airplane  comes  in  here 
every  two  weeks  to  bring  us  supplies,  but  they  were  here 
the  day  before  yesterday." 

Well,  I  remember  taking  a  cup  of  tea  and  walking  out 
behind  this  tent  and  sitting  on  the  ground,  with  this  sand 
moving,  and  damn  near  bawling.   I  just  thought  of  all  the 
dumb  things  to  have  gotten  myself  into,  I  don't  know  what 
I'm  going  to  do  about  that  poor  gal.   She'd  be  there,  in 
New  York,  in  something  like  forty  hours  from  then.   I've 
never  been  so  low.   About  that  time  I  heard  an  airplane 
going  overhead  very  high.   It  was  an  American  DC-3  that 
had  been  turned  over  to  the  British  in  Tripoli,  and  it 
was  on  its  way  to  Cairo.   It  was  up  about  10,000  feet. 


And  I  never  looked  at  anything  so  longingly  in  my  life.   It 
went  right  over  the  field  and  just  kept  right  on  going  and 
finally  disappeared  out  of  sight. 

Then  all  of  a  sudden  I  heard  the  funny  kind  of  back- 
firing and  funny  popping  that  some  airplanes  make  when  they 
land.   I  looked  up,  and  here  this  DC-3  had  turned  around  and 
had  quietly  come  back  and  was  landing  on  the  field.   The 
reason  it  was  landing  was  that  the  captain  or  the  young 
lieutenant  flying  the  airplane  had  a  cousin  who  was  standing 
watch  on  this  field,  one  of  the  eleven  men  there,  and  he 
thought  it  would  be  nice  to  just  say  hi.   He  hadn't  seen 
him  in  a  long  time,  so  he  came  down  to  get  a  cup  of  tea. 
Well,  he  came  in  and  he  knew  enough  to  land  short,  and  he 
and  his  copilot  came  up  for  a  cup  of  tea.   Of  course,  as 
soon  as  they  got  over  hugging  each  other,  I  told  him  who 
I  was,  showed  him  my  credentials,  and  I  said,  "I'm  des- 
perately anxious  to  get  back  to  anyplace  where  I  can  get 
a  plane  to  the  United  States."   He  said,  "That's  Cairo; 
that's  where  we're  going.   There's  no  stop  in  between." 
Well,  I  had  been  told  I  should  never  get  separated 
from  my  gear,  and  I  had  a  metal  box  with  all  my  paintings, 
all  my  drawings  for  a  year  in  it,  and  it  weighed  over  250 
pounds,  and  I  had  my  own  personal  stuff  as  well.   I  swallowed 
real  hard  and  told  him  I  had  this  big  box,  and  he  said,  "I 
don't  care  if  it  weighs  a  ton.   We've  got  an  empty  ship. 
NO  problem."   So  he  sent  the  guys  out  with  their  mine 


detectors  and  a  little  kind  of  a  funny  trucking  thing  rhey 
had,  and  by  golly,  they  get  my  box,  and  they  brought  it 
back  with  my  suitcase.   After  being  on  the  ground  for  two 
hours,  counting  the  walks  that  I  made  through  the  minefield, 
I'm  on  an  airplane  headed  for  Cairo,  which  was  over  1,000 
miles  back,  headed  east. 

So  at  four  o'clock  in  the  afternoon,  I  arrived  back  at 
the  place  that  I  had  left  at  dawn.   I  walked  up  to  an  officer 
at  the  desk,  and  he  said,  "What  the  hell  are  you  doing  here?" 
I  said,  "Well,  I'm  here  first  to  report  the  fact  that  Colonel 
Wurl  is  desperate:   the  plane  is  down,  he  needs  motors,  and 
equipment  to  get  the  plane  rebuilt  or  whatever  has  to  be 
done."   So  I  got  all  that  off  my  chest,  and  the  British 
sent  a  plane  out  early  the  next  morning  with  everything 
that  they  needed  to  work  with.   In  the  meantime,  the  Tommies 
started  clearing  the  minefield.   They'd  get  a  jeep  and  pull 
the  mines  out.   Our  men  were  down  for  about  ten  days,  but 
they  finally  got  out.   I  had  promised,  of  course,  to  call 
Mrs.  Wurl  and  the  families  of  everybody  else  who  was  in 
the  plane,  which  I  did  when  I  got  to  New  York.   But  in  the 
meantime  the  officer  said,  "Now,  what  about  you?"   I  said, 
"My  orders  are  to  go  as  fast  as  I  can  to  New  York."   He 
said,  "Well,  let  me  see  your  priority."   I  had  a  priority 
three,  which  wasn't  very  high,  so  he  said,  "Well,  Mr.  Sheets, 
you  haven't  got  a  prayer  of  going  that  way.   You've  got  to 
go  clear  back  to  Karachi,  India."   Karachi,  India  was  at 


least  two  days  of  solid  flying.   I  said,  "There's  no  way 
I  can  go  to  Karachi,  India.   I've  got  to  be  in  New  York — 
it's  a  desperate  problem,  and  it's  secret."   He  said, 
"There's  no  way."   He  said,  "I  don't  know  even  when  I  can 
get  you  back  to  Karachi.   We've  got  people  stacked  up  here 
a  mile  high  with  credentials  one  and  two,  and  generally  we 
only  take  ones  on  this  route,  which  means  generals  or  top 
diplomats."   Well,  to  cut  a  long  story  short,  I  suddenly 
remembered  that  a  general  friend  of  mine  had  said  before 
I  left,  "Millard,  I'm  going  to  give  you  a  very  special 
letter,  and  if  you  get  in  a  jam,  use  it,  no  matter  what." 
GOODWIN:   And  you  were  in  a  jam.   [laughter] 
SHEETS:   I'd  never  read  that  letter.   I  opened  it  up,  and 
there  were  ten  copies,  army  fashion,  signed  by  the  coirjnanding 
general  of  the  American  supply  forces.   Well,  when  I  read 
the  letter,  I  nearly  flipped.   It  said,  "No  matter  what  the 
situation  is,  expedite  in  every  possible  way  Mr.  Sheets 's 
return  to  the  United  States  and  then  his  return  back  to 
India."   Well,  you  can't  ask  for  more  than  that,  so  the 
officer  said,  "Well,  this  beats  anything  I've  ever  heard 
of.   How  soon  could  you  leave?"   I  said,  "I'm  ready."   He 
said,  "There's  a  plane  out  on  the  ramp  right  now  and 
there's  a  no-show.   Have  you  had  anything  to  eat?"   I  said, 
"No,  I  haven't  had  anything  to  eat  all  day."   He  said, 
"Well,  I'll  see  that  something  is  put  aboard."   So  in  eight 
minutes  I'm  on  a  plane,  with  my  big  box,  which  he  even  put 
on,  and  I'm  headed  for  Casablanca. 


We  landed  in  Tripoli,  then  we  flew  on  to  Casablanca 
getting  in  there  about  two  or  three  o'clock  in  the  morning. 
As  we're  getting  off,  I  can  hear  these  guys  droning  out, 
"Let  me  see  your  card  priority."   Then  they'd  say,  "One  or 
two,"  and  they'd  stamp  it  and  say,  "Well,  call  us  in  ten 
days."   There  were  dozens  of  people  backlogged  in  Casablanca 
on  ones  and  twos.   I  could  just  hear  what  they  were  going 
to  say  to  me  with  a  three,  so  I  got  down  to  the  gate  where 
an  officer  looks  at  my  card.   He  takes  one  look  at  it  and 
says,  "My  God,  how  did  you  ever  get  here  on  this  plane?" 
I  said,  "Well,  it's  a  long  story,  but  I'm  here."   He  said, 
"You'll  never  get  out  of  here.   You've  got  to  go  back  to 
India.   There's  no  way  you  can  go  from  here  back  to  the 
United  States."   I  said,  "Well,  we'll  talk  about  it  tomorrow." 
So  he  gave  me  a  billet  order  downtown,  which  would  be  like 
forty  minutes  by  taxi.   So  I  saw  that  my  stuff  was  unloaded, 
and  I  very  carefully  hid  out  until  all  of  the  people  had 
left,  the  whole  bunch  of  them  had  all  gone  to  town.   Then 
I  went  out  to  where  they  said  the  executive  officer  was 
for  the  night.   His  noncom  sergeant  asked  what  I  wanted 
and  I  said,  "I  want  to  see  the  executive  officer."   He 
said,  "Well,  he's  not  here."   I  said,  "Well,  it's  important 
that  I  find  him.   Where  is  he?"   And  he  said,  "He's  way  down 
near  that  hanger."   I  said,  "Thank  you,"  and  walked  down  to 
the  hangar  and  found  him. 

So  I  pulled  out  my  letter,  copy  number  two.   The  first 


man  had  kept  number  one.   He  read  the  letter,  and  he  said, 
"Oh,  do  you  know  what  this  does  to  me?   There  are  150  men 
that  sleep  out  here  every  night,  all  day,  all  night,  just 
waiting  for  one  no-show.   I've  got  a  no-show  on  a  plane 
that's  going  to  leave  in  thirty  minutes,  but  they  would 
tear  me  from  limb  to  limb  if  I  put  you  on  that  airplane, 
if  I  go  through  the  routine."   I  said,  "Well,  what's  the 
unroutine?"   He  said,  "Well,  according  to  this  letter  it's 
got  to  be  unroutine.   I've  got  to  get  you  on  there.   The 
only  way  to  do  it  is  for  you  to  stay  here.   Where's  your 
gear?"   Then  I  swallowed  real  hard  and  told  him  all  about 
that  heavy  box.   "Oh,"  he  groaned,  "they'll  never  take  that 
kind  of  weight."   But  he  said,  "You  stay  here,  and  I'll  get 
a  jeep,  and  in  the  last  minute  I'll  load  you  but  remember, 
if  that  no-show  shows  up,  then  you're  out.   It's  leaving 
within  thirty  minutes." 

So  I  waited.   Everybody  was  loaded  on  the  airplane. 
A  guy  came  down  with  a  jeep,  drove  me  right  up.   I  climbed 
up  this  little  ladder,  and  my  bags  were  on  board~I  could 
see  them.   I  very  gratefully  went  over  and  sat  down  on  one 
of  them.   The  same  exec  came  on  board  and  said,  "Now  remem- 
ber, until  that  door  is  locked  and  the  plane's  motor  starts, 
you'll  still  have  to  get  out."   I  thought  those  motors  would 
never  start,  and  finally  they  locked  the  door  and  the  motors 
hadn't  started,  when  I  heard  this  bang,  bang,  bang  on  the 
door,  and  I  knew  what  it  was.   The  door  opened  up,  and  a 


guy  comes  in.   I  knew  he  was  heading  for  me.   He  came  right 
to  me  and  he  said,  "The  captain  will  not  take  that  extra 
weight.   It's  either  you  or  the  box.   You  can  go  or  the 
box  can  go."   I  said,  "Well,  I've  got  to  go,  but  would  you 
really  understand  how  important  that  box  is,  because  it's 
a  year's  work,  and  it's  necessary  it  gets  there  as  soon  as 
possible."   He  said,  "I  can't  promise  you  anything  about 
when  it  will  get  there,  but  I  will  personally  see  to  it 
that  it's  taken  care  of  and  it  will  get  on  the  first  chance. 
But  every  plane  going  out  of  here  is  overloaded." 

So  with  that  we  took  off.   I  thought,  boy,  I'm  going 
back  no  matter  what.   And  as  it  turned  out,  we  landed  in 
the  Azores,  flew  on  to  New  York,  landed,  got  out  of  hock, 
and  I  took  a  taxi  downtown.   I  had  stayed  off  and  on  for 
years  in  the  old  Barbizon  Plaza  up  on  Fifty-seventh  Street 
and  Fifth  Avenue.   I  went  to  this  hotel,  with  all  the  con- 
fidence in  the  world,  and  didn't  realize  that  rooms  were 
just  not  available.   But  getting  there  at  four  o'clock  in 
the  morning,  they  must  have  had  a  short-time  room  because 
they  had  a  room  for  me.   I  walked  into  my  room,  picked  up 
the  telephone,  called  California  and  found  that  Mary  was  in 
Maryland  with  her  brother,  where  she  had  arrived  a  few  days 
before.   She  was  supposed  to  arrive  in  New  York  the  after- 
noon of  that  morning.   So,  I  was  on  time. 

I  got  ahold  of  her,  and  she  came  up  to  New  York  by 
train.   And  it  was  really  an  incredible  meeting.   She 


hadn't  been  in  that  room  with  me  more  than  about  two  hours 
when  the  telephone  rang  and  it  was  the  airport  calling  to 
say,  "We've  got  some  gear  out  here.   You'd  better  come  and 
pick  it  up."   That's  how  fast  that  good  guy  back  in 
Casablanca  operated.   Well,  then  the  last  part  of  the  story 
I'll  tell  very  quickly,  if  there's  any  tape  left. 
GOODWIN:   A  few  minutes. 

SHEETS:   [Henry]  Luce  had  a  big  luncheon  for  me  to  give  my 
report  on  what  was  happening  in  India  and  China.   No  one 
on  the  entire  Time-Life  staff  would  believe  a  word  I  said. 
I  explained  that  this  was  not  my  story,  but  the  story  of 
the  correspondents,  including  a  lot  of  Life  people.   They 
heckled  me  from  twelve  noon  until  seven  o'clock  that  night. 
And  finally  Mr.  Luce,  who  was  very  nice,  said,  "Well, 
Millard,  I  think  you  ought  to  go  back  to  California  and 
get  a  rest."   They  thought  I  was  touched. 

I  came  back  to  California,  and  I'd  been  back  about 
two  weeks  when  six  correspondents  came  back  to  New  York 
and  the  story  really  broke.   But  I  didn't  know  that.   I 
was  called  by  James  Flannery,  who  was  at  that  time  head 
of  the  news  for  CBS  for  the  West  Coast.   He  said,  "We 
understand  that  there's  a  very  tough  situation,  that 
General  Stilwell  may  be  demoted,  may  be  brought  out.   I 
understand  that  you've  just  been  home  two  weeks  and  that 
you  know  a  great  deal  about  it.   Would  you  do  a  program 
with  me?   There's  a  five  o'clock  newscast  which  we  send 


to  South  America  and  Canada  and  all  over  the  United  States." 
I  said,  "I  would  be  glad  to  do  it,  but  I  know  that  you 
wouldn't  want  to  do  it  when  I  tell  you  the  facts."   He 
said,  "Come  in  and  have  lunch  with  me." 

So  I  went  in  and  had  lunch  with  him  and  I  told  him  the 
whole  story.   He  was  dismayed  and  could  hardly  believe  it 
himself.   We  talked,  I  guess,  till  two  or  two-thirty.   We 
went  back  to  CBS.   It  was  raining  very  hard  and  I  had  left 
my  overcoat  in  his  office.   I  went  up  to  get  it,  and  on  the 
way  past  the  ticker  room,  he  just  grabbed  a  whole  bunch  of 
ticker  tapes  and  walked  on  in  with  me  while  I  got  my  coat 
on.   He  said,  "Wait  a  minute,  read  this."   It  told  about 
these  five  correspondents  that  had  returned.   They  just 
forced  the  British  to  let  them  out,  and  they  had  broken 
the  whole  story,  and  here  it  was.   He  said,  "My  God,  are 
we  on  time.   This  is  perfect.   We'll  play  it  close  to  the 
belt  and  do  a  tremendous  job." 

So  we  went  on  the  air  for  forty-five  minutes,  and  I 
told  the  facts  just  the  way  they  were.   We  went  out  and 
had  a  quick  drink,  and  I  drove  back  to  Claremont,  which 
took  another  hour  and  a  half  in  those  days  with  no  free- 
ways.  When  I  arrived  in  Claremont,  my  wife  said,  "There's 
a  telephone  call  for  you  from  New  York.   It  was  the  head 
of  all  the  correspondents  for  Time-Life,  a  fellow  that  I'd 
done  a  great  deal  of  work  with  in  Fortune  in  the  early 
days,  Dave  Hulburd  [David  W.  Hulburd,  Jr.].   So  I  called 


him,  and  he  said,  "Millard,  are  you  out  of  your  cotton- 
picking  mind?"   He  said,  "What  in  the  hell  happened  to  you 
this  afternoon?   Why  would  you  do  such  a  thing?"   He  said, 
"You  know  that  your  story  wasn't  accepted."   I  said,  "I 
know  it  wasn't,  Dave,  but,"  I  said,  "I  also  saw  the  ticker 
tapes  when  they  came  in  that  so-and-so  and  so-and-so" — 
and  these  were  all  top  correspondents — "had  been  back  and 
broken  the  story."   "Well,"  he  said,  "you  don't  know  the 
half  of  it.   The  instant  that  we  had  that  information  we 
had  a  White  House  command  that  not  one  word  would  go  out 
on  the  air  or  in  the  press.   You  did  it.   There  hasn't 
been  one  word  that  has  come  out  of  this  thing.   You  are 
ordered  to  stay  in  your  home."   I  said,  "I'm  not  ordered 
to  stay  in  my  home,  period.   I  am  no  longer  working  for 
Life  magazine,  if  that's  the  case."   He  said,  "It's  a 
White  House  order."   I  said,  "It  will  have  to  be  a  different 
colored  house  because  I'm  not  going  to  stay  in  my  home  at 

Well,  it  turned  out  that  two  days  later,  they  couldn't 
hold  those  correspondents  down.   The  story  got  out  and  into 
the  press,  and  it  was  a  mess.   But  that  was  a  pretty  dis- 
couraging moment  when  I  realized  that  our  news  was  controlled 
to  that  degree.   Anyway,  I  heard  no  more  about  the  whole 
affair  from  Life.   I  went  on  and  I  finished  up  some  work 
for  Life,  [laughter]  and  they  had  my  full  issue  of  all  the 
war  paintings  I  had  done,  that  were  coming  out.   The  plates 


were  made,  they  were  starting  to  print,  and  the  armistice 
was  signed.   So  of  course  they  immediately  changed  the 
whole  magazine,  and  my  war  paintings  were  never  published. 
But  they  did  publish  several  other  articles  with  my  things, 
so  I  was  never  shortchanged  on  that  side  of  it.   It  was  an 
exciting  experience,  but  I  was  glad  when  it  was  over. 


DECEMBER  13,  197  6 

GOODWIN:   Last  session  was  devoted  to  a  full  discussion  of 
World  War  II.   Now  we're  going  to  backstep  a  bit  and  dis- 
cuss Mr.  Sheets 's  involvement  with  the  Los  Angeles  County 
Fair— we  already  discussed  the  very  beginning- 
beginning  as  a  employee  of  the  county  in  1931  and  con- 
tinuing until  1958.   What  were  your  various  responsibilities 
at  the  fair,  and  how  were  they  organized? 

SHEETS:   George,  as  I  explained  to  you,  Theodore  B.  Modra 
was  a  very  unusual  man,  bringing  an  extraordinary  amount 
of  background  about  American  artists,  knowing,  as  I  told 
you,  people  like  Bellows  and  Henri  so  intimately.   After 
he  had  allowed  me  to  come  to  his  studio  month  after  month 
for  criticism  and  really  to  stimulate  me  into  working  out- 
doors, by  the  time  I  was  maybe  sixteen,  he  asked  me  to  be 
his  assistant  at  the  L.A.  County  Fair  art  exhibit.   By  this 
time,  he  had  a  nice  wooden  building;  it  was  no  longer  a 
tent.   He  had  an  L-shaped  building  that  he  had  designed. 
One  side  of  it  was  for  crafts,  and  Leta  Horlocker  ran  that 
side  and  ran  it  very  well.   It  did  run  a  little  bit  toward 
sentimental  china  painting,  but  basically  it  was  a  good 
exhibit  of  needlework,  weaving  and  ceramics.   It  was  the 
beginning  of  the  growth  of  these  crafts  and  this  variety 
of  media  in  this  area.   I  think  the  County  Fair  did  a  lot 


to  stimulate  the  colleges  and  individual  artists  to  do 
these  things  seriously.   The  old  idea  that  they  were 
"minor"  arts  and  not  very  serious,  as  against  "fine"  arts, 
was  an  idea  that  Mr.  Modra  was  very  determined  about  in  his 
attitude.   He  felt  that  that  should  be  broken  down,  and  he 
certainly  did  everything  he  could  to  do  it.   We  had  good 
prizes,  good  juries,  and  the  show  grew  gradually. 
GOODWIN:   Who  could  submit  work? 

SHEETS:   Anyone  from  here  in  this  state  or  even  as  far  away 
as  Texas,  if  they  had  wanted  to.   We  had  many  entries  from 
Arizona.   There  was  no  real  limitation  to  the  entries.   In 
the  beginning,  however,  I  would  say  90  percent  came  from 
just  the  Southern  California  area.   Gradually  it  grew,  and 
we  had  entries  from  all  over  the  state  and,  as  I  said,  from 
out  of  state.   I  learned  a  great  deal:   first,  how  juries 
were  handled,  and  of  course  I  spent  most  of  my  time  physically 
carrying  pictures,  hanging  pictures,  putting  wire  on  paintings, 
building  pedestals  for  sculpture  and  all  those  things,  which 
was  a  great  experience.   I  learned  not  only  what  had  to  be 
done  in  an  exhibit,  but  I  learned  to  respect  the  whole  jury 
system.   Modra  was  very  tough  about  it.   He  had  the  best 
people  he  could  find  come  for  juries  in  those  days.   I'm 
not  even  sure  that  they  received  any  compensation.   They 
were  artists  selected  very  carefully,  which  meant  that  if 
they  exhibited  they  were  not  in  competition.   I  remember 
very  clearly  that  I  was  impressed  with  this,  though  I  made 


probably  forty  cents  an  hour.   They  would  drive  out  from 
Los  Angeles  and  various  places  when  they  agreed  to  serve. 
[Modra]  died  very  suddenly,  when  I  believe  I  was  not 
more  than  twenty  or  twenty-one.   I  guess  I  might  have  been 
twenty-one.   The  fair  board,  to  my  surprise,  asked  me  to 
become  the  director  of  the  show.   I  ran  the  show  for  two 
or  possibly  three  years  in  the  same  building  that  Mr. 
Modra  had  built.   But  by  this  time  I  was  able  to  get  up  a 
great  deal  of  excitement  about  the  show.   I'd  increased 
the  budgets  considerably,  and  I  persuaded  the  fair  to 
build  a  new  building.   I  should  explain  to  you  that  this 
was  not  really  a  county  operation.   Though  the  county  was 
associated  and  it  had  the  name  of  the  Los  Angeles  County 
Fair  and  the  county  gave  certain  funds  each  year,  it  was 
a  grant  rather  than  anything  that  they  operated  through 
civil  service.   It  was  a  private  corporation,  which,  I 
think  I  told  you,  my  uncle  Lewis  Sheets  started.   It 
worked  very  closely  in  harmony  with  Los  Angeles.   We  used 
to  use  the  old  Otis  Art  Institute  as  the  headquarters  to 
receive  paintings  after  I  started  the  larger  shows,  when 
I  had  our  jury  meetings  in  Los  Angeles.   We  were  very 
closely  related  and  in  a  very  happy  way.   But  the  show 
was  a  separate  and  independent  organization.   In  the  early 
thirties  we  built  the  new  building,  and  slowly,  through 
the  years,  as  the  fair  became  more  pleased  with  the 
exhibition,  we  were  given  more  attention  and  publicity 


by  the  press,  which  of  course  meant  something  to  the 
administrators  of  the  fair. 

GOODWIN:   What  was  the  essential  purpose  of  the  art  show 
at  a  county  fair? 

SHEETS:   Well,  the  thing  that  Mr.  Modra  started  and  I  con- 
tinued for  the  first  few  years  was  a  very  good  annual  show 
for  the  artists  of  Southern  California.   It  was  a  place 
where  they  could  display  their  best  professional  work.   I 
thought  our  show  certainly  was  on  a  par  with  what  was 
occurring  at  this  same  time,  the  same  type  of  exhibition, 
at  the  Los  Angeles  County  Museum.   The  L.A.  County  Museum 
had  one  major  show  a  year  for  the  sculptors  and  painters 
and  a  separate  show  for  watercolor  and  graphics.   We  had 
one  show  for  all.   We  put  our  graphics  into  the  same  new 
wing  that  had  the  crafts.   But  basically  it  was  to  en- 
courage in  every  possible  way  what  all  the  artists  were 
doing.   We  had  substantial  prizes.   Most  of  them  were  not 
purchase  prizes  in  the  early  days  but  were  cash  prizes. 
GOODWIN:   How  much  were  they? 

SHEETS:   I  think  that  by  1932,  even  though  it  was  the 
Depression,  I  think  we  gave  $500  as  the  major  prize  in 
oil  painting.   I  think  it  was  $400  in  watercolor.   I 
don't  know  why  it  should  have  been  less,  but  it  was. 
Sculpture  received  $500.   Then  there  were  some  honorable 
mentions  and  I  believe  one  or  two  second  prizes.   We  did 
make  a  few  sales,  which  was  very  encouraging.   But  mainly 


it  was  really  a  chance  for  artists  to  exhibit  when  there 
were  too  few  chances  in  those  days. 

Step  by  step,  I  brought  various  people  in  to  assist 
me.   The  first  major  assistant  was  Richard  Petterson  as 
head  of  the  crafts  and  that  whole  side  of  the  exhibition— 
which  was  considered  by  me  certainly  and  by  the  fair  as  an 
equally  important  adjunct.   Though  painting  and  sculpture 
did  perhaps  get  more  publicity,  we  worked  terribly  hard  on 
the  idea  of  having  the  finest  jurors,  the  finest  quality 
in  crafts,  and  began  to  give  purchase  prizes,  as  we  did 
eventually  in  painting.   If  I  think  of  the  whole  twenty- 
seven  years  that  I  was  connected  with  the  fair,  I  would 
say  that  about  ten  years  were  devoted  to  this  type  of 
exhibition,  where  we  had  good  juries  of  acceptance,  good 
jurors  for  awards,  and  out  of  that  period—probably  six 
or  seven  years— we  gave  purchase  prizes  that  got  up  to 
some  substantial  amounts,  like  $1,500  or  even  $2,000  at 

times . 

By  this  time  we  attracted  works  nationally.   The 
last  two  years  we  had  a  major  show  of  painting  and 
sculpture.   I  had  a  jury  meet  in  New  York,  and  I  went 
back  to  meet  with  it.   We  gave  the  jurors  an  allotted 
number  to  choose,  and  we  brought  those  paintings  and 
pieces  of  sculpture  from  New  York  out  here  at  the  L.A. 
County  Fair's  expense.   We  had  a  similar  jury  in  Chicago. 
At  the  same  time,  we  would  have  a  similar  jury  which. 


every  two  years,  we  alternated  between  San  Francisco  and 
Southern  California.   Then  we  would  put  the  combined 
California  and  national  shows  together.   I  would  bring 
the  chairman  of  each  jury  from  the  East,  plus  two  or  three 
members  from  California,  to  serve  on  the  jury  of  awards. 
I  think  that  on  the  last  year  of  that  exhibition  we  gave 
in  the  neighborhood  of  about  $25,000  in  major  prizes,  both 
purchase  and  cash  prizes.   We  had  a  very  interesting  col- 
lection by  the  end  of  this  time. 
GOODWIN:   Where  was  it  housed? 

SHEETS:   It  was  housed  at  the  county  fair.   We  loaned  the 
pieces,  because  it  became  a  very  nice  exhibit,  really.   We 
loaned  them  to  colleges  and  to  small  community  museums. 

It  was  about  this  time  that  there  was  a  great  deal  of 
ferment,  particularly  amongst  amateur  artists  who  felt  that 
the  show  was  professional  and  that  they  didn't  have  an 
opportunity  to  exhibit.   So  we  started  an  amateur  show  in 
the  domestic  arts  building,  which  was  a  very,  very  large 
building.   The  fair  gave  a  substantial  number  of  prizes 
and  so  forth  and  the  opportunity  for  amateurs  in  painting 
and  sculpture  and  everything  from  bedspreads  to  whatnot 
to  show  their  works.   It  was  an  amazing  big  building  filled 
with  the  kind  of  things  that  amateurs  make.   Some  of  them 
were  very  exciting.   I  used  to  buy  things  quite  often  out 
of  that  just  because  they  were  examples  of  beautiful 
handicrafts.   However,  the  professional  exhibition  became 


more  and  more  separated  from  the  general  knowledge  of  the 
public.   Each  year  the  prizes  seemed  to  dismay  more  and 
more  of  the  public,  not  merely  the  fair  board,  but  the 
public  itself.   We  used  to  have  approximately  500,000 
people  go  through  our  exhibition  in  seventeen  days.   It 
was  an  extraordinary  attendance. 

GOODWIN:   Wow!   Did  they  have  to  pay  to  get  in? 
SHEETS:   Oh,  no,  there  was  no  pay  at  all.   It  was  a  very 
beautiful  building  in  the  sense  that  it  was  properly 
designed  for  the  kind  of  people  we  had  to  handle.   We 
had  excellent  lighting  and  I  think  we  hung  the  shows 
well.   Then  the  war  came.   I  believe  that  it  was  for  two 
years  the  county  fair  was  dark.   I  believe  it  was  on  the 
third  year  of  the  war,  or  perhaps  the  fourth,  that  they 

I  had  just  come  back  from  India,  my  war  service  (it 
must  have  been  the  first  September  after  the  end  of  the 
war,  whenever  that  was) ,  and  I  thought  it  would  be  an 
interesting  thing  to  change  the, format.   Instead  of 
having  a  typical  exhibition  of  oils,  watercolors,  sculp- 
tures and  so  forth,  I  conceived  the  idea  of  an  exhibition 
which  I  titled  "One  World  of  Art."   I  had  something  of  a 
problem  to  explain  this  to  the  board  because  I  knew  that 
it  would  require  a  large  step  upward  in  the  cost,  in  the 
budget  itself.   I  thought  that  it  would  be  interesting  to 
bring  together  examples  of  most  of  the  world's  greatest 


cultures  of  the  last,  let's  say,  400  years.   We  couldn't 
obviously,  get  into  everything,  but  we  did  go  back,  I 
think,  in  a  few  instances  to  older  cultures.   I  felt  that 
with  a  world  that  was  so  muddled  with  hatreds  and  fears 
and  all  the  things  that  go  with  war,  that  it  was  the  right 
time  to  show  that  Japan,  for  example,  had  a  fantastic  cul- 
tural heritage,  that  Germany  had,  that  Italy,  of  course, 
had.   I  thought  it  would  be  very,  very  exciting  to  try  and 
get  the  finest  examples  I  could  from  all  these  different 
cultures  that  made  up  the  people  who  really  were  involved 
in  World  War  II.   So  after  much  talk  and  some  debate — they 
were  good  enough  to  let  me  come  to  the  board  meetings;  I 
didn't  have  to  go  through  some  administrator — I  was  able 
to  sit  down  and  talk  with  the  whole  board.   I  did  persuade 
them  that  it  was  a  worthwhile  thing  and  they  finally  agreed, 
Then  the  problem  was  to  not  only  select  the  works  but  to 
get  them  here  safely  and  get  them  back  safely.   I  borrowed 
things  from  the  Metropolitan  Museum;  I  borrowed  one  thing 
from  the  Louvre,  one  thing  from. the  British  Museum,  many 
things  from  other  American  museums.   I  borrowed  one  of  the 
most  fantastic  pieces  of  sculpture  from  India,  one  of  the 
greatest  stone  torsos  I've  ever  known,  from  the  Honolulu 
Academy  of  Art.   They  own  it  still  as  one  of  their  prized 
possessions,  we  had  that.   We  had  marvelous,  great  seven- 
teenth-century paintings  from  Germany.   We  had  beautiful 
Italian,  Spanish,  French,  English,  American  examples. 


GOODWIN:   Weren't  the  museums,  both  foreign  and  domestic, 
reluctant  to  loan  their  work  because  of  security? 
SHEETS:   George,  in  those  days  it  was  very  different  than 
it  is  today.   First  of  all,  there  were  not  even  slightly 
as  many  demands  from  one  museum  to  another.   The  number  of 
museums  that  would  pay  the  expense  of  insurance  and  the 
cost  of  shipping  and  whatnot,  though  those  expenses  were 
clearly  nothing  as  compared  to  today — it  just  wasn't  the 
common  thing  to  do,  particularly  coming  from  far  east  to 
far  west  and  across  the  sea.   I  was  fortunate  that  I  knew 
people  at  the  Metropolitan  and  other  museums  and  had  been 
on  juries  where  I'd  met  many  of  these  people.   We  were 
just  lucky  because  I  know  that  you  couldn't  do  this  thing 
today.   I'm  absolutely  confident  of  it,  between  the  danger 
of  accident  and  the  carelessness  of  handling  things  today. 
We  used  to  send  a  box  with  assurance  on  Railway  Express, 
for  example--this  was  long  before  any  real  air  freight — 
and  it  came  undamaged.   Today  it  just  isn't  that  safe. 
Today  you're  better  off  to  rent  a  truck  and  put  it  on 
board  and  have  your  own  driver  and  take  it  across  the 
country.   But  in  those  days  it  was  much  safer,  and  the 
museums  were  much  more  willing.   I've  seen  that  slowly 
change.   Well,  it's  changed  steadily  from  those  days, 
from  that  year  on,  even.   While  I  was  still  at  the  county 
fair,  you  could  see  it  change.   So  we  were  lucky  and  were 
able  to  do  it,  and  to  do  it  with  great  examples.   Somewhere 


I  have  a  catalog,  which  I'd  love  to  show  you. 
GOODWIN:   I've  seen  it. 
SHEETS:   Oh,  have  you? 

GOODWIN:   Some  of  these  are  in  the  UCLA  Art  Library. 
SHEETS:   Oh,  good.   So  anyway,  we  enjoyed  it,  and  it  was  so 
exciting  to  have  a  preview  that  created  as  much  furor  as  this 
did,  because  there  were  a  lot  of  people  who  resented  the 

GOODWIN:   Why? 

SHEETS:   Well,  human  nature.   You  are  taught  to  hate  some- 
body for  three  or  four  or  five  years  while  you  are  at  war 
with  them,  and  then  somebody  says,  "Gee,  isn't  this  great? 
It's  Japanese."   Or,  "It's  German."   You  or  I  don't  feel  or 
think  or  would  never,  I'm  sure,  be  caught  in  this  trap.   But 
humanity  is  a  very  funny  thing,  in  my  opinion.   It  doesn't 
take  too  much  propaganda  on  either  side  to  get  people  to 
hate  quite  easily.   I  was  surprised  that  we  were  even 
slightly  picketed,  not  seriously.   There  were  people  who 
even  wrote  some  very  unhappy  articles  about  what  business 
did  we  have  showing  these  things — these  were  our  enemies. 
Well,  we  were  at  peace.   At  least  the  war  had  ended. 

But  on  tlie  other  hand,  I  remember  so  distinctly — and 
this  of  course  would  probably  still  offend  a  great  many 
people — our  then-governor,  who  later  became  chief  justice, 
[Earl]  Warren,  was  terribly  excited  about  this  exhibit.   I 
wrote  to  him,  knowing  that  he  always  came  down  to  the  fair 


on  the  opening  day,  which  was  customary  in  those  days. 
Perhaps  it  is  now — I  don't  know--but  the  governor  always 
came  to  open  the  L.A.  County  Fair  officially,  as  he  did 
the  state  fair.   The  state  fair  actually  was  a  big  fair, 
but  ours  was  always  the  largest  county  fair  in  the  world. 
We  always  had  well  over  a  million  in  attendance,  which,  I 
suppose,  wouldn't  mean  much  today,  but  in  those  days,  it 
was  a  lot  of  people.   So  I  wrote  to  Governor  Warren  and 
told  him  what  we  were  doing,  and  he  telephoned  me  almost 
immediately  and  said  that  he  was  quite  interested  in  the 
idea.   In  my  letter  I  asked  him  if  he  would  consider  doing 
a  walk-through  with  me  for  television.   They  had  asked  me 
to  do  one.   I  thought  it  would  be  particularly  wonderful 
if  he  would  be  willing  to  do  it.   He  telephoned  me  and 
said  that  he  would  be  most  interested  in  seeing  the 
exhibition,  that  after  seeing  it  he  would  discuss  with  me 
whether  he  would  do  the  TV  or  not.   He  caime  down  two  days 
ahead,  instead  of  the  normal  day  ahead,  and  walked  through 
the  exhibition  with  great  enthusiasm  and  said,  "I  don't 
pretend  to  know  about  art,  but  I  do  believe  I  understand 
what  you're  trying  to  accomplish."   So  CBS  did  a  one-hour 
show  on  television.   In  those  days  you  had  to  drag  cables 
that  were  bigger  around  than  lampposts,  it  seemed  to  me. 
I've  never  seen  so  many  lines  in  my  life.   The  500  dis- 
tinguished guests  that  we  had  asked  to  come  to  the  opening 
were  really  literally  standing  on  the  steps  while  we  did 


this  program,  and  it  was  slightly  uncomfortable  to  be  doing 
this  thing  while  they  were  outside.   Then  we  had  to  clear 
the  material  afterwards  before  the  guests  could  come  in. 
But  it  was  a  great  experience  to  me  to  walk  through  that 
exhibition  with  Governor  Warren.   He  was  the  most  respon- 
sive person.   He  tried  really  to  get  into  every  single 
piece,  and  to  have  me  explain  why  it  intrigued  me.   It 
was  a  most  pleasant  experience,  and  we  did  get  a  tremendous 
reception  from  the  thing  in  terms  of  television.   It  was 
very  early  television--there  weren't  too  many  people  who 
had  sets  in  those  days — but  it  was  great. 
GOODWIN:   Was  there  a  large  public  response  to  the  show? 
SHEETS:   That's  what  I  meant.   There  was  an  amazing  public 
response.   We  never  had  more  people  ever  come  to  an  exhi- 
bition.  They  just  absolutely  mobbed  us.   It  was  worthwhile, 
GOODWIN:   I  saw  that  Arthur  Millier  helped  you  on  the 
catalog.   He  wrote  some  of  the  text. 

SHEETS:   Yes,  I  don't  know  how  many  catalogs  Arthur  wrote 
for  us,  but  I  would  say  in  the  last  perhaps  six  or  seven 
years  of  the  show  he  wrote  most  of  the  catalogs.   He  was 
tremendously  interested  in  the  idea  of  what  had  been  Mr. 
Theodore  B.  Modra ' s  slogan,  "bringing  art  to  the  people." 
That  was  his  slogan,  which  I  think  we  all  adhered  to, 
really.   This  was  no  high-hat  show.   If  people  came  through 
with  five  kids  pushing  a  baby  cart,  this  is  what  we  wanted, 
to  expose  them  to  the  best  that  we  could.   Arthur  was  the 


kind  of  critic  that  really  cared  about  people  and  tried  to 
educate  them.   He  wasn't  the  kind  that  we  sometimes  have 
today  who  sits  in  a  special  little  world  of  his  own,  being 
somewhat  snobbish  about  the  world.   He  was  very  devoted  to 
this  show.   It  was  great  for  us  because  he  always  had  a  way 
of  saying  things  that  seemed  to  appeal  to  people. 
GOODWIN:   We  haven't  spoken  about  Millier  before.   How  long 
had  you  known  him? 

SHEETS:   Well,  ever  since  he  became  an  art  critic,  I  guess, 
is  the  only  answer  to  that,  which  must  have  been  about  1929. 
The  critic  before  him  who  retired  had  used  Arthur  as  kind  of 
a  protege  once  in  a  while.   When  Arthur  began  to  write,  it 
was  just  at  the  time  that  I  was  getting  started.   So  we  were 
really  thrown  together,  I  believe,  in  '28  and  '29.   With  my 
having  won  those  prizes  and  having  my  first  exhibition,  he 
was  extremely  generous  toward  me  because  of  my  youth  and 
because  I  was  getting  started.   I've  always  thought  that 
Arthur  was  probably  more  helpful  to  more  artists  than  any 
other  single  person  in  Southern  California.   Not  merely  by 
being  nice — he  wasn't  always  nice — he  used  to  really  tear 
you  apart  on  occasions  if  he  felt  like  it,  but  he  was  very 
sincere.   He  took  time  to  try  to  figure  out  what  you  were 
trying  to  get  at,  instead  of  imposing  his  own  personal 
taste  on  everything  that  you  did.   I  know  of  dozens  of 
artists  that  I  grew  up  with  who  feel  the  same  way  about 
Arthur  Millier.   He  was  a  marvelous  catalyst  between  what 


they  were  trying  to  do  and  the  public .   I  know  that  he  had 
a  tremendous  influence  on  my  life.   Not  that  he  told  me 
what  to  paint — I  don't  mean  that  kind  of  an  influence — 
but  the  fact  that  he  gave  me  a  voice  in  the  public  sense, 
which  worked  in  hundreds  of  ways,  not  only  as  a  critic  of 
my  painting,  but  by  assisting  me  at  the  fair,  lecturing  in 
the  colleges  on  occasion  and  helping  me  bring  people  to  the 
West — for  various  reasons.   Whether  it  was  for  a  jury  or 
whether  it  was  to  speak  or  to  do  a  commission,  he  was 
always  in  there,  really  working  for  the  good  of  the  artist. 
And  this  is  what  a  critic,  I  think,  should  be. 
GOODWIN:   Did  he  have  any  particular  causes  or  champion  any 
particular  artists? 

SHEETS:   No,  and  I  thought  that  he  was  extremely  catholic 
in  his  taste  for  that  period.   Now,  if  you  remember,  this 
is  before  a  lot  of  the  isms  that  followed.   Though  he  did 
his  own  etchings  and  drawings  and  watercolor  painting,  he 
was  tremendously  behind  the  abstract  painter  and  the 
expressionistic  painter.   He  had  a  feeling  about  the  whole 
development  of  modern  art  through  impressionism  and  into 
postimpressionism  and  cubism  and  whatnot.   This  was  his 
area,  and  he  knew  these  things  well  and  had  a  great  love 
and  affection,  which  he  expressed  in  his  writing.   As  we've 
discussed  before,  he  didn't  talk  about  art  as  though  he 
knew  all  about  it  but  didn't  like  it.   He  talked  about  it 
in  the  sense  that  he  truly  believed  in  the  importance  of 


it.   I  know  time  after  time  he  really  put  people  in  front 
of  the  public,  gave  them  an  opportunity  that  lots  of  critics 
just  don't  seem  to  have  any  feeling  about  today  at  all. 
I  think  the  fair  show  following  "One  World  of  Art" 
was  "5,000  Years  of  Art  in  Clay."   That  was  one  of  the  most 
interesting  shows  because  in  this  particular  instance  we 
eliminated  all  of  the  crafts  except  the  ceramic.   Of  course, 
we  started  with  the  most  ancient  examples  that  I  could  get. 
I  went  again  to  the  Metropolitan  and  to  some  of  the  great 
museums  of  this  country  and  was  able  to  borrow  incredible 
objects  from  Egypt,  from  the  Middle  East,  from  Greece,  Rome, 
Etruscan,  and  coming  on  down  through  every  facet  of  European 
and  Chinese  and  Asiatic  cultures.   It  was  a  great  exhibit. 
I  included  in  the  exhibit  some  of  the  disciplines  in  con- 
temporary industry,  showing  the  way  things  are  actually 
produced  in  clay.   By  photograph  and  with  objects  and  what- 
not, we  had  enough  realism  in  this  area,  along  with  the  art 
objects,  to  give  people  a  sense  of  how  important  clay  is  in 
daily  life  as  well  as  its  being  a  highly  creative,  expressive 
material,  creatively  and  aesthetically. 

GOODWIN:   I  notice  there  were  670  pieces  in  that  show,  so 
it  was  a  big,  big  show. 

SHEETS:   It  was  a  big  show.   That  allowed  us  then  to  go 
right  into  the  whole  craft  side,  the  other  end  of  the 
buildings,  with  a  major  show  of  contemporary  ceramics, 
national  as  well  as  lots  of  things  borrowed  from  Japan 


that  were  contemporary.   So  all  in  all,  I've  always  thought 
that  was  one  of  the  really  good  shows  we  put  on,  and  I've 
always  thought  that  the  catalog  was  expressive  of  the  fact 
that  we  enjoyed  it  in  every  way. 

For  the  following  exhibition,  we  collaborated  with 
House  Beautiful  magazine.   I  went  East  and  persuaded  the 
editor  of  the  magazine,  Elizabeth  Gordon,  to  agree  that  we 
invite  some  ten  designers  that  the  editors  of  House  Beautiful 
and  I  agreed  upon  to  design  very  special  rooms,  sometimes  a 
suite  of  rooms.   We  actually  built  these  rooms  completely 
within  the  art  gallery.   Again,  we  used  the  whole  enormous 
building.   That  building  was  over  300  feet  long  and  100  feet 
wide.   It  was  just  a  series  of  marvelous  spaces.   We  had  a 
combination  very  often  of  architect,  interior  decorator, 
and  artist  working  together  on  projects  to  do  creative 
things  within  each  of  these  rooms.   They  also  produced  the 
finest  furniture,  the  finest  fabrics,  the  finest  everything 
that  we  could  get,  with  the  idea  then  that  House  Beautiful 
would  do  a  major  issue  on  the  exhibition.   Well,  they  were 
really  impressed  when  they  finally  came  out  to  California 
when  the  show  was  virtually  complete.   They  were  very  much 
interested  in  the  final  installation  and  so  forth.   They 
brought  about  six  people  on  their  staff  out  here,  their 
decorators  and  writers.   They  were  so  impressed,  they 
eventually  did  two  issues:   one  very  large  issue,  and  the 
second  issue  had  a  very  good  article.   There  were  marvelous 


photographs,  reproductions  of  the  rooms  and  so  forth.   Of 

course,  that  made  a  tremendous  hit,  because  every  woman 

in  the  world  looked  at  House  Beautiful  in  those  days. 

That  show  was  also  well  attended;  in  fact,  all  of  those 

exhibitions  were. 

GOODWIN:   The  basic  point  of  that  show  was  that  any  room 

could  be  designed  as  a  work  of  art? 

SHEETS:   Every  room  should  have  a  presence.   Every  room 
should  have  a  feeling  of  good  sense  and  good  planning  and 
function,  but  also  have  a  real  quality  of  color  and  atmos- 
phere.  Works  of  art  could  be  assimilated,  not  merely  as 
something  stuck  on  a  pedestal  or  something  hung  on  a  wall, 
but  as  an  integral  part.   We  had  a  great  deal  of  work  that 
was  actually  done  just  for  that  room,  specifically  designed 
and  executed  in  sculpture  and  in  painting.   There  were  small 
murals.   There  were  special  titles.   It's  hard  to  remember 
the  number  of  projects  we  had,  and  I  think  there  were  at 
least  thirty  artists. 
GOODWIN:   According  to  my  notes,  there  were  sixteen  rooms 

in  the  show. 

SHEETS:   That's  about  right,  and  I  think  there  were  at 
least  thirty  artists  working  for  months  on  this  project 
in  collaboration  with  the  other  people.   The  fair  paid  the 
expense  of  the  whole  thing.   I  don't  mean  that  the  artists 
were  paid—in  most  instances  they  were  not,  though  a  few 
were.   But  it  opened  up  great  new  vistas  for  certain 


artists,  just  being  exposed  to  this. 

GOODWIN:   Do  you  think  the  philosophy  underlying  that 
exhibition  has  changed? 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  don't  think  the  philosophy  has  changed, 
because  unfortunately  it  was  not  the  philosophy  at  the 
time.   The  problem  was  and  is  that  decorators  and  archi- 
tects too  often  are  more  apt,  if  they  wish  to  include  art, 
to  search  around  so  they  can  find  something  they  like. 
They  seem  to  be  somewhat  dubious  about  sitting  down  with 
an  artist  and  having  the  artist  have  a  say  in  the  develop- 
ment of  the  plan.   I  think  the  artists  are  as  much  at  fault 
as  either  the  decorator  or  the  architect,  because  unfor- 
tunately artists  are  not  trained,  as  part  of  their  basic 
education,  to  recognize  the  meaning  of  collaboration,  the 
excitement  of  collaboration—not  only  the  discipline  but 
I  think  the  responsibility  of  collaboration.   I've  spent 
my  life  in  this,  so  that's  why  I  created  this  idea  or 
suggested  this  idea  to  the  fair  without  any  change  of 
philosophy.   But  unfortunately  it  wasn't  at  that  time, 
and  it  isn't  today,  the  way  it  normally  works,  though 
there  are  marvelous  and  exciting,  rare  exceptions.   I  know 
architects  who  are  fabulous  with  artists  and  artists  who 
are  tremendously  gifted  and  able  to  work  with  them.   But 
there  hasn't  been  the  emphasis  in  art  education,  and  there 
hasn't  been  the  suggestion  that  artists  should  become  more 
and  more  interpreters  and  less  and  less  egotists,  until 


they  can  work  with  whatever  the  problem  is.   I  think  that 
unfortunately  it  hasn't  changed — it  just  hasn't  arrived 
at  that  point  yet. 

GOODWIN:   So  it  would  be  pretty  difficult  to  do  a  similar 
show  today? 

SHEETS:   No,  I  think  it  wouldn't  be  difficult.   I  think  I 
could  find  today,  easily,  the  number  of  people  that  I  could 
give  the  confidence  to  work  with  other  people.   It's  like 
breeding  horses:   you  put  the  right  mare  and  stallion 
together  and  you're  going  to  get  a  good  horse.   I'm  sure 
that  it  could  be  done.   But  unfortunately  there  aren't 
enough  middle  people,  enough  middle  men  or  middle  women. 
There  aren't  enough  people,  I  should  say,  to  care  enough 
about  trying  to  blend  these  forces,  and  they're  marvelous 
forces,  and  they  need  each  other  desperately.   They  just 
don't  know  how.   They  haven't  been  educated  to  appreciate 
the  need  and  the  possibilities. 

GOODWIN:   What  about  the  financial  aspect  of  this  problem? 
SHEETS:   That's  pretty  shocking,  as  far  as  that  show  was 
concerned.   Do  you  mean  that  show? 

GOODWIN:   Well,  the  implications  of  that  show.   Can  middle- 
class  people  afford  quality  art  in  their  home? 
SHEETS:   Yes,  I  think  so.   I  really  think  so.   Certainly 
American  middle-class  can  without  any  question.   This  is 
a  part  of  the  realism  that  must  be  faced  by  everyone.   I 
had  an  experience  when  I  was  called  in  by  a  very  old  friend 


of  mine  just  last  Saturday  to  discuss  fees  for  a  very 
special  project  that  he  had  been  asked  to  design  for  one 
of  our  largest,  most  important  corporations.   He  is  one 
of  the  finest  ceramic  designers  that  I  know.   I  think  he 
has  the  finest  taste,  is  the  most  skillful,  the  most 
beautiful,  beautiful  person.   He's  a  marvelous  person. 
I  found  out  that  what  he  really  wanted  to  talk  about,  when 
he  and  his  charming  wife  invited  me  to  lunch,  was  how  you 
arrive  at  a  fee.   He  had  done  a  job  for  a  company  in  Japan, 
and  he  had  ended  up  really  holding  the  short  end  of  the 
stick  in  a  very  unfortunate  way  because  he  hadn't  been  wise 
in  his  contractual  relationship.   He  simply  hadn't  been 
thoughtful  about  it.   I  think  he  was  a  little  bit  dreamy- 
eyed  when  he  approached  the  problem,  in  his  excitement 
about  going  to  Japan  and  doing  the  job.   Well,  he  didn't 
want  to  be  burned  twice,  and  I  could  understand  his  conster- 
nation.  But  I  was  shocked  at  how  little  he  had  thought  about 
what  would  be  a  normal  way  to  try  and  price  a  job  of  this 
kind.   He  was  trying  to  get  from  me,  "Well,  what  do  other 
designers  get,  what  has  this  type  of  operation  or  corpora- 
tion paid  before  for  this  kind  of  thing?" 

I  said,  "Forget  what  others  have  paid.   Sit  down  and 
honestly  put  down,  let's  say,  the  best  three  years'  income 
you've  ever  had.   Take  an  average  or  take  the  top.   Then 
figure  out  how  much  of  a  year's  time  you  anticipate  this 
will  take.   If  it's  a  fourth"--which  he  thought  it  was — 


I  said,  "all  right,  then  put  down  as  a  base  fee  one-fourth. 
Now  add  to  that  at  least  another  25  percent  of  that  amount 
for  contingency,  because  you're  going  to  go  into  extra  time. 
Then  add  what  you  think  are  the  unusual  expenses  that  you 
are  going  to  be  involved  with  in  studio  help  and  other 
things.   Add  to  it  the  travel  and  per  diem  that  you  antici- 
pate or  make  simply  flat  arrangements  that  they  pay  all 
travel  and  per  diem.   Be  very  careful  that  if  it  means  going 
East,  which  it  will,  that  you're  paid  on  the  days  that  you're 
there  and  traveling  because  you're  giving  up  your  work  here. 
As  much  as  you'd  like  to  be  just  a  nice  guy,  put  it  down. 
And  when  you  total  that  all  up,  be  real  brazen  and  add  25 
percent  to  that  as  a  reason  to  divert  yourself  from  your 
regular  work."   I  said,  "That  is  the  kind  of  thing  that  I 
think  anybody  could  do  without  any  mystery.   And  certainly 
you  can't  then  complain  if  it  takes  a  little  longer  or  if 
you  missed  something,  because  it's  a  chance  to  serve.   Then 
put  your  emphasis  not  on  how  much  you're  going  to  get  out 
of  this  job,  but  how  lucky  they  are  to  get  you  for  this 
price,  and  you're  doing  it  mainly  because  you  expect  it  to 
be  so  successful  that  you  will  be  asked  at  least  once  a  year 
to  do  such  projects."   Well,  it  just  shook  the  hell  out  of 
him  to  realize  that  it's  nothing  that  he  couldn't  have 
figured  out  himself,  that  there's  no  mystery  about  it. 
GOODWIN:   Doesn't  it  come  out  to  be  a  pretty  hefty  amount? 
SHEETS:   I  don't  think  so,  no,  because  when  I  said  25  percent. 


I  wasn't  talking  about  25  percent  of  his  time,  I  was  talking 
about  25  percent  for  contingency.   That's  the  only  safe 
thing  because  suppose  they  sometimes  don't  like  the  first 
two  or  three  designs  in  their  very  preliminary  state.   All 
right,  you  can't  figure  that  close  to  the  belt  that  you're 
going  to  spend  three  months,  when  it  may  take  five.   So 
that's  where  I  add  the  25  percent.   Furthermore,  if  you 
have  an  assured  income  and  you're  moving  along  in  your  own 
world  without  pressure,  you're  entitled  to  some  readjustment 
time.   As  a  designer,  I  know  what  this  readjustment  time 
means.   It  means  that  you  are  getting  out  of  your  sphere. 
You're  entering  a  whole  new  set  of  relationships,  human  and 
otherwise.   You're  meeting  a  lot  of  very  important  disciplines 
that  have  to  be  mastered  in  addition  to  your  regular  work. 
You  can  say,  well,  that's  something  you  ought  to  just  learn 
on  your  own.   But  on  the  other  hand,  if  you  stay  in  your  own 
bailiwick,  you  don't  need  to  worry  about  this,  and  you  go  on 
in  the  regular  way.   So  I  think  it  was  very  sane.   In  fact, 
I  would  say  this:   if  he  does  that,  according  to  the  indica- 
tion he  made  to  me  what  his  annual  income  is,  I  think  he 
will  be  below  what  he's  really  entitled  to  because  of  his 
national  importance  as  a  designer.   Not  in  the  field  that 
he  is  being  asked  to  enter,  but  in  the  field  of  his  own 
creative  work,  he  is  one  of  the  very  top  people  in  the 
country.   I  think  they'd  be  lucky  to  get  him  for  the  price 
that  I  figure,  but  I  think  he  will  feel  that  he's  making  a 


very  good  step.   The  next  job  would  be  much  clearer  to  him. 
He'll  be  able  to  arrive  at  another  figure. 
GOODWIN:   Well,  if  a  big  corporation  has  to  pay  a  nice 
salary  for  a  top  designer,  what  is  the  ordinary  family 
going  to  do  in  terms  of  getting  advice? 

SHEETS:   It's  a  totally  different  thing  when  you're  talking 
about  designing  something  of  which  they  may  sell  between  two 
and  three  million  dollars'  worth.   It's  a  totally  different 
problem  than  a  neighbor  or  a  friend  or  someone  that  just 
happens  to  like  your  work  who  comes  to  you  and  suggests  that 
they  would  like  to  have  you  do  a  very  special  thing  for  their 
house.   That's  something  you  do  as  a  commission  right  along 
with  your  regular  work.   You  know  what  you  get  for  this  kind 
of  thing,  and  I  don't  think  there  has  to  be  anything  added. 
That  seems  to  be  the  normal  way  that  the  people  work.   At 
least  that's  the  way  I've  always  worked.   In  fact,  some  of 
the  most  exciting  things  have  come  out  of  that  kind  of 
contact.   You  do  it  because  somebody  wants  something,  and 
they  really  feel  it.   They  like,  it,  and  they  have  a  special 
problem.   This  happens  so  very  many  times.   You  get  excited 
about  it,  you  do  it,  they  get  excited  about  it,  they're 
happy  to  show  it  to  their  friends,  and  pretty  soon  you're 
besieged.   The  problem  with  artists  is  that  they  are  too 
reticent  about  wanting  to  get  involved  with  anything  off- 
beat, other  than  just  doing  their  work  in  their  own  way, 
submitting  it,  and  then  the  hell  with  it.   That's  wrong. 


Because  artists  really  have  unlimited  opportunity  if  they 
open  the  doors  of  their  mind  and  their  spirit  by  getting 
involved  with  good  people. 

GOODWIN:   This  discussion,  of  course,  is  based  on  the 
exhibition  "Western  Living"  at  the  county  fair.   What  was 
the  specific  message  to  people  visiting  that  exhibition? 
Was  it  "Go  out  and  get  some  good  advice  when  you  design 
your  home"?   Or  was  it  "You  can  do  this  yourself  with 
some  experience"? 

SHEETS:   Both,  I  think  both.   I  think  in  addition  to  that, 
it  opened  the  eyes  of  many  people,  undoubtedly  thousands 
of  people — not  hundreds,  but  thousands  of  people — to  see 
what  a  perfectly  beautiful  bowl,  a  ceramic  bowl,  can  mean 
in  the  right  place,  in  the  scale  of  the  room,  and  the 
excitement,  the  identity,  the  character,  the  personality 
that  enters  a  room  with  that  versus  something  that  you  buy 
in  an  ordinary,  rinkydink  shop.   A  piece  of  sculpture  hung 
on  the  wall,  a  painting,  or  a  special  tapestry,  people  were 
so  tremendously  responsive  to  this  thing,  I  can't  tell  you. 
And  I  know  we  had  a  tremendous  influence  upon  people's 
buying.   Now,  I  don't  know  how  many  of  them  would  have  gone 
through  the  process  of  saying,  "You  design  this  for  me," 
although  I've  known  hundreds  of  experiences  like  that,  too, 
not  only  through  ray  own  experience  but  through  people  coming 
to  me,  asking,  "Who  can  I  get  to  do  something?"   I've  had 
the  most  fun  in  my  life  saying,  "I  know  exactly  the  person 


you  should  ask,"  then  calling  that  person  and  saying,  "Now, 
approach  this  properly  and  it's  going  to  be  an  exciting 
experience."   And  it  works. 

GOODWIN:   You  seem  to  be  implying  that  almost  anybody  is 
capable  of  developing  good  taste.   Is  that  true? 
SHEETS:   I  think  so.   I  think  that  good  taste  is  based 
upon  as  much  discipline  as  is  required  in  mathematics  or 
in  the  knowledge  of  chemistry.   I  think  that  a  person  can, 
by  exposure  and  by  thoughtful  study,  serious  study,  can 
enlarge  his  taste  enormously.   I  can't  say  that  everyone 
is  going  to  be  equal.   I  wouldn't  suggest  that.   I  think 
some  people  are  infinitely  more  sensitive;  they're  deeper 
in  their  love  of  life;  they  have  a  great  deal  more  percep- 
tive power  than  others.   But  I've  hardly  known  a  person 
that  you  couldn't,  if  he  was  interested  in  learning,  be 
of  tremendous  help  in  developing  his  taste. 


DECEMBER  13,  1976 

GOODWIN:   As  an  art  educator,  I'm  sympathetic  to  your  point 
of  view,  but  in  a  way  I  also  feel  that  it's  wishful  thinking, 
that  it's  too  much  to  expect,  that  most  people  have  the 
potential  of  becoming  quite  sensitive  to  their  environment 

SHEETS:   I  understand  why  you  say  that,  and  I  think  you  have 
a  good  position.   I  can't  say  that  what  I'm  talking  about  is 
easy  to  achieve.   I  think  it's  difficult  to  do  it  en  masse. 
I  think  it's  difficult  to  do  it  at  the  scale  and  education 
that  is  so  often  demanded  from  a  teacher.   But  if  you  have 
the  chance  to  be  with  people  and  have  an  opportunity  to 
expose  them  to  fine  things,  expect  them  to  do  a  reasonable 
amount--and  perhaps  I  will  suggest  an  unreasonable  amount 
of  research  and  reading  and  continuous  looking--people  do 
begin  to  develop  comparative  judgment.   And  this  whole 
thing  I'm  talking  about  is  a  comparative  judgment  proposi- 
tion.  I  think  perhaps  the  thing  that  expresses  it  the  best 
would  be  to  discuss  innumerable  collectors  that  I  have  known 
in  my  lifetime — and  I've  lived  long  enough  to  see  them 
develop,  over  a  period  of  thirty  years,  forty  years,  from 
the  most  banal,  ordinary  kind  of  taste  to  exceptional  taste. 

Now,  I  think  one  of  the  things  that  sharpens  a  collector 
more  quickly  than  anything  else  is  their  investment.   There's 


an  old  saying  that  there  are  lots  of  people  who  love  art, 
but  it's  Platonic  till  you  buy  it.   And  I  thoroughly  agree 
with  this,  because  as  a  collector  I  don't  think  in  terms 
of  owning  art;  I  think  in  terms  of  being  surrounded  with 
things  that  talk  to  me  and  that  I  get  so  much  out  of.   I've 
known  collector  after  collector  who  started  out  buying  the 
obvious,  the  picture,  the  sweet  thing,  the  thing  that 
requires  the  least  thinking.   But  as  they  are  reviewed  by 
their  contemporaries,  and  as  they  look  around  more  and 
become  more  conscious,  some  of  them  very  quickly  realize 
that  many  times  those  are  bad  investments.   So  they  begin 
to  look  more  deeply  into  it. 

Now,  I  think  that  anytime  you  can  be,  as  I  have  on  so 
many  occasions,  practically  living  with  people,  twenty  or 
thirty  people  for  two  solid  weeks,  talking  day  after  day — 
what  seems  to  be  almost  like  talking  to  a  blank  wall  or  a 
solid  rock  wall—along  about  the  middle  or  certainly  the 
latter  third  of  that  time,  you  are  amazed  at  the  impact 
that  you  can  have  in  that  length  of  time.   In  the  breakdown 
of  fear,  for  example.   I  taught  last  summer  a  very  intensive 
course  up  at  Asilomar  in  a  workshop  for  Jade  Fong.   There 
were  130  people,  and  there  were  four  teachers.   We  worked 
literally  day  and  night.   We  started  at  seven-thirty  in 
the  morning  with  breakfast  and  ended  up  at  eleven  o'clock 
with  criticisms  in  a  small  theater.   And  I'm  getting  letters 
now,  at  this  time— perhaps  it  has  to  do  with  Christmas,  and 


I've  had  them  all  of  the  fall,  all  during  the  fall—letters 
literally  by  the  dozen.   I  must  have  had  at  least  thirty 
letters  from  people  who  show  gratitude  for  having  had  the 
fear  of  so  many  things  broken  down.   Now,  one  thing  I  didn't 
think  about  was  talking  about  being  fearful.   But  in  getting 
people  really  excited  and  stirred  up  and  involved  with  their 
thinking  and  their  reasoning  and  their  judgment  and  the  way 
we  looked  at  the  things  together,  I  tell  you,  it's  a  fantastic 
thing  that  you  can  do.   One  of  the  worst  problems  is  that  in 
ordinary  teaching  you  meet  them  once  or  twice  or  three  times 
a  week  in  a  darkened  room  with  a  bunch  of  slides,  or  you 
talk  to  them,  and  they're  half -asleep.   But  if  you  get  into 
the  situation  where  they  can  be  truly  exposed  and  you  expect 
a  great  deal  from  them,  it's  amazing  what  can  happen.   I 
know  it  isn't  easy,  and  I  know  that  I'm  sounding  oversimplified. 
GOODWIN:   Well,  I  think  one  of  the  basic  reasons  that  the 
problem  is  so  acute  is  that  art  isn't  taken  seriously  in 
school.   Kids  don't  study  art  through  the  grades,  and  if 
they  do  study  art  it's  usually  in  a  rather  superficial  way. 
SHEETS:   Well,  absolutely,  you  couldn't  be  more  right. 
Another  way  of  saying  it  is  that  sometimes  they're  exposed 
to  a  lot  of  art  without  ever  having  really  been  given  some 
sense  of  why  that  art  exists  or  the  function  of  it  or  the 
place  of  it  in  society.   To  merely  talk  about  names  and 
dates,  as  I  was  told  in  high  school  to  remember  some  names 
and  dates  after  looking  at  slides,  doesn't  really  get  you 


very  far.   But  when  you  begin  to  get  involved  with  the 
quality  of  mind  that  a  piece  of  stone  can  imprison,  and 
you  begin  to  feel  it  and  see  it,  then  you  never  look  at 
another  piece  of  sculpture  the  same  way — whether  it's  a 
painting,  whether  it's  a  drawing,  whatever  it  is.   I  think 
you're  absolutely  right.   I  think  the  superficiality  of 
teaching  teachers  to  teach  by  the  gross,  or  worse  than 
that  ....   As  I  told  you,  I  think,  my  Latin  teacher 
became  my  art  teacher. 
GOODWIN:   Right. 

SHEETS:   This  is  a  poor,  poor  substitute  for  cultural  depth. 
GOODWIN:   Well,  I  know  the  situation  today  in  the  Los  Angeles 
city  schools  is  that  a  student  does  not  have  to  take  any  art 
in  order  to  graduate  from  high  school.   So  theoretically, 
after  a  kid  graduates  from  elementary  school,  he  may  not 
have  any  art  the  rest  of  his  life. 

SHEETS:   This  is  true.   And  he  may  feel  that  it's  only  for 
ladies  and  people  who  don't  have  anything  else  to  do.   It's 
a  very  sad  thing.   Yet  it's  interesting  to  me  now,  working 
with  business  people,  working  with  people  who  are  older,  who 
I'm  sure  went  through  much  the  same  struggle— and  I'm  cer- 
tainly not  talking  about  the  masses,  but  I'm  talking  about 
people  who  have  developed  themselves  as  human  beings,  who've 
traveled,  who've  built  homes  and  built  businesses — it's 
extraordinary  how  hungry  I  find  these  people  to  know  what 
the  arts  will  do  for  their  lives.   The  only  word  I  can  use 


is  hunger,  because  it's  something  that  they  crave,  and  they 
need  help  even  in  their  adult  stages  of  life  to  un-self- 
consciously  approach  these  arts. 

I  think  I  told  you  before,  one  of  the  most  exciting 
things  in  my  experience  in  working  with  bankers  and  indust- 
rialists and  so  on  is  that  many  of  them  become  very  important 
art  collectors,  not  because  I  tried  to  make  collectors  out 
of  them,  but  I  got  them  excited  because  I'm  excited  about 
these  things.   They  take  care  of  themselves  from  then  on. 
They  have  to  be  introduced,  and  when  they're  introduced, 
they  know  that  nobody's  trying  to  make  some  kind  of  myster- 
ious magic  out  of  this  thing,  that  it's  a  down-to-earth  thing 
that  man  has  always  craved  and  needed.   The  only  reason  the 
arts  continue  in  life  is  because  they're  part  of  the  languages; 
otherwise  you  have  no  means  to  communicate  these  elements  of 


GOODWIN:   There's  another  county  fair  exhibition  I  want  to 

mention,  and  that  was  1953,  "Painting  in  the  United  States." 

SHEETS:   Well,  I  think  that  was  the  one  that  I  mentioned 

where  we  had  the  juries  in  the  East  and  the  Middle  West. 

GOODWIN :   Oh . 

SHEETS:   Yes,  that's  the  same  exhibition. 

GOODWIN:   This  was  150  paintings,  essentially  tracing  the 

history  of  American  art;  and  then  toward  the  end  there  was 

an  overview  of  contemporary  painting. 

SHEETS:   Oh,  that's  right.   I'd  forgotten  that  I  had 


invited  some  of  the  great  early  things.   That's  right.   I'd 

forgotten  that  part  of  it.   In  addition  to  the  juries  that 

we  had  of  contemporary  things,  we  did  have  some  great  earlier 

things,  that's  right.   I'd  forgotten  that. 

GOODWIN:   I  was  kind  of  surprised  that  in  1953,  at  the  Los 

Angeles  County  Fair,  you  were  showing  Gottlieb,  Motherwell, 

Reinhardt,  Hofmann,  Baziotes. 

SHEETS:   Sure. 

GOODWIN:   That  seems  pretty  far  out. 

SHEETS:   Well,  even  though  I'm  a  representational  painter, 

and  I  suppose  those  people  would  call  me  ultra-,  ultra-, 

rancid  conservative,  which  I've  never  thought  I  was,  I  have 

never  felt  that  way  about  other  kinds  of  art.   I'm  interested 

in  all  kinds  of  art.   I  had  the  pleasure  of  selecting  what  I 

thought  were  some  of  their  best  works  for  that  show.   It  was 

an  exciting  show  to  me.   I've  always  done  that.   In  any  of 

the  exhibitions  at  [Scripps]  College  or  the  county  fair  or 

later  at  Otis,  we  saw  no  lines  of  demarcation.   I  fought 

for  the  right  of  people  to  do,  you  know,  whatever  type  of 

art  they  wanted  to  do. 

GOODWIN:   Was  there  any  rivalry  between  these  big  exhibitions 

at  the  county  fair  and  the  operation  of  the  Los  Angeles 

County  Museum? 

SHEETS:   No,  unfortunately  they  stopped  the  local  exhibition 

when  we  became  really  involved  with  it.   During  the  Depression, 

there  were  budgetary  problems.   You  see,  Los  Angeles  County 


Museum  had  a  series  of  directors  who  were  not  interested  in 
art.   They  had,  oh,  for  a  long  period  of  time  someone  in  one 
of  the  sciences  [William  A.  Bryan].   I've  forgotten  now 
which  one— I  think  it  was  geology.   And  later  they  did  have 
a  very  good  man,  the  head  of  the  art  department,  who  later 
was  involved  with  the  Metropolitan  Museum,  [Roland]  McKinney. 
He  made  things  lively  for  a  while,  but  he  couldn't  persuade 
the  board,  which  at  that  time  was  largely  interested  in  the 
science  and  history  side  of  the  old  museum,  to  give  them 
the  budget  for  even  the  annual  show.   Then  the  next  director 
was  Dr.  [Jean]  Delacour,  who  was  primarily  interested  in 
animals  and  zoos.   He  was  a  fascinating  man.   I  became  a 
very  close  friend  of  his  because  I  loved  birds,  and  that 
was  his  great  joy.   He's  written  some  of  the  greatest  books 
on  birds.   It  was  at  the  time  that  I  went  to  become  the 
director  at  the  Otis  Art  Institute  that  we  became  such  close 
friends,  when  we  met  as  department  heads.   But  we  met  on  the 
bird-life  side  rather  than  on  the  art  side.   Then,  of  course, 
when  the  new  museum  was  built  and  Ric  Brown  became  the  art 
director,  he  was  interested  in  only  the  things  he  was 
interested  in.   He  had  no  interest  in  the  local  artists 
whatsoever,  except  a  few,  a  very  small  number  that  he 
happened  to  like.   I'm  sure  you've  had  this  from  Jimmy 
Byrnes  as  well  as  or  better  than  I  can  tell  you.   But 
there  was  a  very  vast  gap  between  the  approach  of  the 
curators  at  that  time  and  anything  like  a  local  exhibition. 


So  there  really  never  was  any  competition. 

GOODWIN:   It  sounds  that  in  some  sense  you  were  doing  the 

museum's  work  for  the  museum. 

SHEETS:   Well,  we  filled  a  very  important  need — there's  no 

doubt  about  it.   We  worked  closely  with  some  of  the  smaller 

museums,  like  Santa  Barbara  and  San  Diego.   I  used  to  spend 

a  tremendous  amount  of  time  working  in  San  Diego  and  Santa 

Barbara,  lecturing  and  jurying  and  persuading  the  artists 

in  those  regions  to  become  involved  in  the  county  fair.   It 

was  great  because  we  pulled  the  state  together  pretty  well 

during  those  days.   Even  from  the  north — we  had  a  tremendous 

number  of  things  that  came  from  the  San  Francisco  area.   But 

the  museum,  which  I  think  should  have  been  doing  that,  was 

just  not  interested. 

GOODWIN:   So,  for  a  certain  time  of  the  year,  the  best 

place  to  see  quality  art  was  at  the  county  fair. 

SHEETS:   For  a  big  exhibition  of  a  cross  section  it  certainly 

was.   There  were  of  course  a  few  galleries  in  town  that  were 

showing  excellent  things,  but  for  a  good  cross  section  of 

what  was  going  on,  I  think  it  was  a  very  satisfactory  thing. 

GOODWIN:   Did  you  know  Dr.  [William  R.]  Valentiner  at  the 

County  Museum? 

SHEETS:   Yes.   He  was  an  amazing  man.   He,  of  course,  came 

with  a  great  background  and  reputation  from  Detroit.   I  was 

always  disappointed  that  he  didn't  get  more  local  support 

than  he  did.   I  can't  remember — did  he  die  on  the  job  or 


did  he  die  right  after  he  left? 

GOODWIN:   He  left  Los  Angeles.   Of  course  by  the  time  he 
came  here,  he  had  retired  from  Detroit,  but  he  retired 
again  and  then  he  went  to  help  organize  the  North  Carolina 
museum  in  Raleigh,  and  he  died  in  Raleigh. 

SHEETS:   That's  right.   But  he  was  probably  a  little  ahead 
of  the  group  that  really  got  behind  the  new  museum.   If  it 
had  been  a  little  later,  I  think  Valentiner  would  have  been 
very  successful  here.   But  it  was  hard,  after  having  had 
the  support  of  great  wealth  in  Detroit,  to  conjure  up  much 
of  that  here.   I  remember  it  was  a  discouraging  thing  for 
him,  and  it  was  discouraging  for  me  because  it  seemed  like 
the  L.A.  museum  just  wasn't  going  to  come  out  of  the  dol- 
drums.  And  then  it  did  very  suddenly,  indirectly  from  me. 
It  started  with  Howard  Ahmanson. 

GOODWIN:   We're  going  to  talk  about  that  later.   Did  you 
have  any  contact  with  the  old  Pasadena  museum? 
SHEETS:   Yes,  many  kinds  of  contacts.   I  knew  the  early 
directors.   Grace  Nicholson  gave  it  to  the  city  of 
Pasadena  as  the  Pasadena  museum,  and  of  course  I  was  a 
very  close  friend  of  Grace  Nicholson.   I  had  bought  some 
beautiful  Oriental  things,  Japanese  mainly,  from  her  and 
had  been  so  accustomed  to  the  gallery.   The  board  that  was 
formed  in  the  city  included  Jarvis  Barlow  and  his  mother, 
who  were  wealthy  and  devoted  patrons  of  the  arts.   I  knew 
Virginia  Scott  for  many  years,  whose  museum  I  am  very 


involved  with  since  her  death.   [doorbell  rings;  tape 
recorder  turned  off]   Mr.  [Albert  B.]  Ruddock,  as  I  remember, 
was  the  chairman  of  the  board,  and  they  had  birth  pains, 
which  most  institutions  have.   I  was  called  in  on  several 
instances  to  discuss  problems  with  them  in  the  more  abstract 
sense,  in  handling  exhibitions  and  that  kind  of  thing.   Then 
Mrs.  Scott  asked  the  directors  and  was  granted  the  privilege 
of  putting  on,  if  I  remember,  three  major  shows  a  year  of 
individual  artists — in  some  cases  retrospective,  in  some 
cases  their  current  work.   I  was  very  happy  to  be  asked  to 
have  a  retrospective  show,  which  I  did.   In  every  way  in 
the  early  days ,  I  was  involved  in  and  out  without  any  assign- 
ment or  certainly  no  appointment  of  any  kind.   But  we  exchanged 
quite  a  few  exhibits  between  Scripps  and  Pasadena,  our  ceramic 
show  particularly.   We  used  to  send  some  special  things  that 
they  invited  out  of  that  show  afterwards.   And  we  had  print 
shows  that  we  shared  jointly. 

GOODWIN:   But  it  wasn't  a  museum  of  modern  art  at  that 

SHEETS:   It  included  modern  things,  but  it  was  not  a  modern- 
art  museum.   It  had  Oriental  material  because  of  Grace 
Nicholson's  background.   She  loaned  some  very  important 
things  to  them,  and  they  borrowed  some  very  important 
things.   Rather  tragically,  they  built  up  quite  a  large 
museum  collection,  and  when  the  new  group  came  in  and 
suddenly  switched  and  made  it  into  a  modern  museum--which. 


as  you  know,  ended  up  in  bankruptcy-they  sold  and  virtually 
gave  away  the  majority  of  the  museum's  collection.   Now,  out 
of  that  were  some  very  important  things  that  were  sold  at 
very  nominal  prices  to  get  rid  of  them  because  they  didn't 
suit  the  particular  taste  of  the  new  princes  of  the  modern 
museum.   I  think  this  is  one  reason  that  makes  me  very 
skeptical  about  giving  things  to  a  museum. 

I'm  in  this  problem  right  now,  where  I  would  have 
loved  to  have  had  the  faith  in  giving  maybe  Scripps  or 
some  museum  certain  things  in  our  collection.   The  thing 
that  perturbs  me  is,  all  a  museum  has  to  do  is  to  change 
curators,  and  you  take  what  was  in  the  basement  and  bring 
it  to  the  top,  and  you  take  what's  in  the  museum  and  put 
it  in  the  basement.   Maybe  that's  an  exaggeration,  but  I 
think  that  it's  discouraging  for  people  to  give  in  great 
sincerity  a  collection  to  an  institution  and  then  have  it 
misused.   I  think  a  tough  board  of  acceptance  should  always 
be  set  up  for  a  museum  because  they're  obviously  offered 
more  gifts,  whether  for  tax  purposes  or  for  pure  love, 
than  they  should  accept  automatically.   I  think  that  a 
very  intelligent,  extremely  wise,  well-trained  committee 
should  have  power  to  accept  or  reject.   But  once  you 
accept,  it's  bad  faith  in  my  opinion  to  suddenly  get  rid 
of  these  things,  whether  by  sale  or  by  putting  them  in  a 
permanent  icebox  in  the  basement. 

I  was  shocked,  as  I'm  sure  you  may  be,  by  the  fact 


that  the  Brooklyn  Museum  is  just  selling  some  tremendously 
important  material.   In  their  case,  it ' s  a  matter  of 
survival,  however,  for  operating  expense.   Yet  they  turn 
around  and  pay  $1,800,000  for  a  [Albert]  Bierstadt.   I 
don't  know  where  the  "survival"  quite  fits  into  this. 
They  sold  eleven  major  works  in  order,  I  heard,  to  "survive," 
and  then  the  first  thing  I  know  they're  buying  a  painting 
that  is  hard  to  believe  is  worth  $1,800,000.   But  in  any 
case,  that's  the  way  museums  go. 

I  think  it  was  tragic  for  the  Pasadena  museum,  which 
had  quite  a  bit  of  good  material  of  some  of  the  earlier 
California  artists  and  sculptors — maybe  they  weren't  great, 
but  they're  part  of  the  heritage  of  this  area.   There  would 
have  been  many  ways  they  could  have  been  used,  put  on  loan, 
occasionally  shown,  without  dismissing  them  as  though  they 
were  just  unimportant  material.   The  same  thing  has 
happened  at  the  L.A.  museum  on  several  occasions. 
GOODWIN:   Have  you  had  any  contact  over  the  years  with  the 
Huntington  Gallery? 

SHEETS:   Yes,  I've  had  a  reasonable  amount  of  contact  with 
the  Huntington.   It  was  a  great  shock  to  me  to  discover 
that  in  Henry  Huntington's  will,  he  insisted  that  there 
should  at  one  day  become  an  American  gallery  of  absolutely 
top  quality  to  balance  the  English  eighteenth-century 
GOODWIN:   You're  kidding! 


SHEETS:   I'm  not  kidding.   The  various  boards,  since 
Huntington's  death  in  the  early  1900s,  have  been  largely 
involved  with  the  scholarly  side  of  the  Huntington  Library. 
Though  they  were  given  at  the  time  what  seemed  like  a  very 
enormous  endowment  of  better  than  $30  million,  they  have 
used  the  income  from  the  $30  million  to  enhance  and  develop 
and  widen  the  scope  of  the  library.   They  have  also  purchased 
in  the  neighborhood  of  some  600  to  800  British  drawings, 
prints,  etchings— graphics.   They  have  bought  a  few  paintings, 
English  eighteenth-century.   Though  it's  somewhat  off  the 
record  at  the  moment,  I'm  sure  that  within  the  next  two 
years  there  will  be  an  important,  very  important  gallery 
of  European  eighteenth-century  paintings  given  to  the 
Huntington  Museum,  which  will  be  an  interesting  balance 
to  the  collection  of  strictly  British  eighteenth-century 
paintings  that  occupy  the  galleries.   Their  hope  is  to  have 
an  American  gallery,  and  they're  definitely  headed  in  that 
direction,  but  it's  going  to  mean  a  great  deal  of  outside 
assistance  and  an  enlargement  of  their  endowment  fund  in 
order  to  accomplish  it.   But  it's  part  of  their  plan. 
GOODWIN:   It  seems  that  traditionally  the  Huntington  has 
been  kind  of  an  island  unto  itself.   It  hasn't  sought  any 
wider  involvement. 

SHEETS:   That's  right.   Well,  one  of  their  problems  is  that 
in  the  will  it  is  stated  that  they  cannot  loan  paintings. 
Now,  if  you're  stuck  with  a  situation  that  you  cannot  loan 


a  painting,  it's  very  difficult  to  borrow  paintings,  even 
if  you're  an  established,  very  important  institution,  as 
certainly  the  Huntington  Library  has  become,  worldwide. 
It  has  one  of  the  great  research  libraries — not  only  in 
English  literature,  but  in  American  history  and  literature 
and  many  other  fields  in  American  life.   It's  a  vast  opera- 
tion.  In  fact,  I  think  I  was  told  recently  by  the  director. 
Dr.  [James]  Thorpe,  that  there  are  1,140  scholars  there 
working  continuously  today  in  the  library.   Now  that's 
something  you  don't  see  as  you  enter  the  premises,  but 
they're  there,  and  it's  great  for  this  area  to  have  such 

a  library. 

GOODWIN:   While  we're  surveying  some  of  the  art  institutions 
of  Southern  California,  we  should  mention  the  short-lived 
Modern  Institute  of  Art  in  Beverly  Hills.   Do  you  remember 


SHEETS:   I  remember  it,  but  I  had  nothing  to  do  with  it~ 

and  my  feeling  about  it  is  not  even  developed.   I  don't 

know,  and  I  certainly  couldn't  be  informative—because  I 

know  the  people  that  were  back  of  it  and  I  know  that  there 

was  such  a  zeal  for  it— but  I  never  did  know  why  it  couldn't 

get  off  the  ground,  and  it  certainly  didn't.   So  I'm  in 

complete  ignorance  of  that. 

GOODWIN:   Let's  return  to  the  county  fair.   What  was  the 

situation  in  the  middle  fifties,  shortly  before  you  left? 

SHEETS:   Well,  everything  was  really  moving  along 


beautifully,  except  there  were  two  or  three  elements  that 
were  disconcerting.   One  was  that  the  artists — I  can't  say 
the  average  artist,  but  a  great  many  artists,  let's  put  it 
that  way — a  great  many  artists  in  Southern  California  were 
very  unhappy  about  the  fact  that  we  did  not  have  our  annual 
juried  local  exhibition.   I  appreciated  and  understood  this 
feeling,  but  I  also  felt  that  what  we  were  trying  to  do  was 
a  better  educational  job  with  the  public  than  just  a  juried 
show.   I  felt  that  many  of  the  artists  could  have  gained 
more  from  the  exhibition  by  becoming  involved  with  what  we 
were  trying  to  do  and  becoming  stimulated  by  the  thing,  but 
a  lot  of  the  people  who  complained  the  most  never  came  to 
the  exhibitions,  which  often  happens.   So  you  had  that  side 
of  discontent.   It  was  not  enormous,  but  some  very  strange 
letters  were  written  by  some  very  interesting  people,  many 
of  whom  were  good  friends  of  mine.   They  felt  extremely 
selfish  about  the  problem  and  felt  that  they  were  being 
kept  out  of  something.   That  was  one  side. 

On  the  other  side  was  the  fact  that  gradually,  without 
trying  to  make  a  big  thing  out  of  it,  our  annual  budgets 
were  climbing  up  substantially,  and  that  was  partly  due  to 
inflation.   It  was  also  partly  due  to  the  fact  that  we  were 
trying  to  do  a  bigger  and  better  job.   No  one  likes  to  just 
repeat  anything,  and  I  had  a  good  staff,  most  of  whom  were 
working  on  a  menial  basis — I  mean  not  even  anything  like 
the  kind  of  labor  prices  that  carpenters  or  plumbers  were 


were  getting  at  the  time,  but  they  were  assisting  me  in 
unpacking,  packing,  hanging,  taking  down,  janitor  work, 
all  the  things  that  we  did.   And  we  all  did  the  janitor 
work,  believe  me.   Being  the  head  man,  I  was  the  head 
janitor.   I  hammered  almost  every  basic  nail  to  hang  those 
exhibits.   It  was  not  a  matter  of  asking  somebody  to  do  it; 
I  did  it  with  the  help  of  marvelous  young  people,  mostly 
college  people.   I  never  told  you  what  I  got  as  the  highest 
salary,  which  was,  I  think,  for  a  year's  work.   Because  the 
minute  one  show  was  over  and  everything  was  back  safely  and 
the  letters  were  written  and  thank -yous  and  whatnot,  I 
immediately  started,  sometimes  even  before  the  show  was 
down,  working  on  ideas  for  the  next  show,  and  then  the 
whole  year  was  occupied.   I  think  the  largest  salary  I 
ever  received  was  $2,500  for  a  year's  work.   So  I  hardly 
did  it  for  money.   But  nevertheless,  the  budget  went  up: 
the  shipping,  the  insurance,  the  costs  of  building  those 
rooms.   That  was,  I  guess,  a  kind  of  fatal  mistake  on  my 

The  board  came  to  me  through  the  director  of  the  fair, 
who  was  a  man  I'd  grown  up  with.   He  was,  of  course,  very 
much  older,  but  we'd  always  been  very  good  friends,  and 
he'd  always  supported  me.   But  he  called  me  up  one  day, 
and  I  had  planned  a  marvelous  South  American,  Central 
American  show.   I  wanted  a  Western  Hemisphere  show,  with- 
out the  United  States,  up  to  and  including  Mexico,  Central 


America,  and  South  America.   I  had  made  all  of  the  steps 
during  the  year  before  to  arrange  for  this  and  had  some  of 
the  greatest  artists  in  sculpture  and  painting  and  tapestry 
and  everything  else  involved.   And  it  would  have  made  a 
fantastic  show.   The  budget  would  have  been  about  half  of 
what  our  budget  for  our  big  exhibition  for  House  Beautiful 
was.   But  anyway,  before,  they  had  always  allowed  me  to  come 
and  see  them  at  the  winter  board  meeting. 

I  think  it  was  in  December  or  November  I  was  called  by 
the  head  of  the  fair,  and  he  said,  "Millard,  I  think  you 
ought  to  have  a  sabbatical  for  a  year.   You've  been  talking 
about  how  difficult  it  is  to  do  this  with  all  of  your  other 
work.   We'd  like  to  have  you  take  a  year  off."   I  said, 
"I'd  be  delighted  to  do  that,  but  what  are  you  going  to 
do  while  I'm  gone?"   Well,  he  said,  "We'd  like  to  put  on 
a  great  photographic  exhibition."   [phone  rings;  tape 
recorder  turned  off] 

I  said,  "I  think  it  would  be  fabulous  to  put  on  a 
great  exhibition,  and  I  know  two  or  three  people  who  you 
could  get  to  direct  it.   I'd  be  delighted  to  have  a  year 
off.   If  you  start  out  with  the  great,  earliest  prints, 
which  were  made  in  France,  and  make  it  an  historical 
thing,  and  then  on  the  other  hand  take,  for  instance, 
the  view  of  what  the  impact  of  photography  is  upon  modern 
man  in  all  of  its  vehicles  of  communication  and  every 
other  aspect  as  well  as  being  a  highly  creative  instrument, 


I  think  it  would  make  a  great  exhibition."   "Well,"  he 
said,  "Millard,  we're  not  interested  in  that.   We  want  to 
do  a  snapshot  contest  of  families  sending  in  pictures  of 
their  animals  and  their  babies  and  so  forth  and  so  forth." 
I  said,  "Well,  Jack" — his  name  was  Jack  Afflerbaugh,  and 
we  were  very  good  friends  up  to  that  time — I  said,  "Jack, 
I  couldn't  possibly  swallow  that  in  our  art  exhibition. 
If  you  want  to  do  that  under  the  grandstand,  there's 
tremendous  space  up  there.   It's  the  kind  of  space  where 
most  of  the  people  will  congregate  anyway.   That  would  be 
fine."   But  I  said,  "If  you  put  that  in  the  art  building, 
in  our  exhibition  hall,  where  we've  stood  for  something, 
where  we've  set  some  values  and  stood  for  quality,  I  would 
simply  have  to  resign."   I  said,  "This  isn't  a  threat,  this 
is  simply  the  way  I  feel  about  it.   I  couldn't  abide  by  it." 
"Well,"  he  said,  "I'm  sorry  you  feel  that  way  about  it."   I 
said,  "Well,  that  is  the  way  I  feel  about  it,  and  if  you  go 
ahead  with  this  thing,  then  just  automatically  accept  my 
resignation,  because  I  will  not  come  back  if  you  put  on 
such  an  exhibition." 

For  years  after  that.  Jack  and  I  argued  whether  I  quit 
or  he  fired  me,  and  I've  always  said  he  really  fired  me 
because  he  accepted  my  choice  without  any  question.   In  any 
case,  I  was  relieved  because  I  had  been  giving  a  fantastic 
amount  of  time,  and  I'm  sure  I  would  have  gone  on  indefinitely 
to  continue  the  thing.   I  knew  there  was  no  way  I  could  put 


on  the  kind  of  show  I'd  been  putting  on  after  a  silly  family 
snapshot  competition. 

GOODWIN:   What  happened  to  the  art  program  at  the  fair  after 
you  left? 

SHEETS:   They  had  that  exhibition,  which  I  must  say  I  didn't 
see,  and  then,  very  wisely,  they  hired  Rick  Petterson,  who 
had  been  my  assistant  in  charge  of  all  the  craft  end  of  it 
as  the  director  of  the  art  department.   But  they  put  a  man 
over  him  who  also  is  a  very  good  friend  of  mine,  a  sculptor 
who  had  been  working  for  a  long  time  in  what  they  called 
their  "home"  exhibit.   The  builders  had  a  very  large  area 
where  they  built  houses,  model  houses,  and  decorated  and  so 
forth.   Johnny  Svenson  was  the  head  of  that  department.   I 
guess  they  thought  that  he  was  a  man  that  could  stay  within 
the  budgets  more  easily  than  the  rest  of  us  could,  so  they 
hired  him  to,  in  a  sense,  supervise,  although  he  didn't  in 
any  way  supervise  what  Rick  did.   Rick  has  done  a  very  good 
job.   He's  made  the  exhibitions  very  exciting  to  the  public. 
There's  been  a  lot  of  art  in  action:   a  tremendous  number 
of  potters  working,  silversmiths,  glass  blowers — sometimes 
from  Mexico,  sometimes  from  Europe,  sometimes  from  here. 
Though  I  have  not  actually  seen  an  art  exhibit  since,  I've 
heard  very  good  things  about  certain  aspects  of  the  exhibi- 
tions.  Rick  is  a  very  talented,  very  able  person,  and 
they've  had  some  crafts  exhibited  in  relation  to  these  art- 
in-action  things.   It's  been  largely  local,  except  for  a 


few  cases,  as  I  said,  when  they  went  out  to  Mexico  or  to 
Europe  to  get  some  special  craftsman.   They  did  have  some 
Japanese  potters  come  over  one  time.   I  think  it's  been 
creditable,  from  what  I  understand.   I  haven't  seen  one. 
GOODWIN:   Of  course,  the  rest  of  the  art  scene  in  Southern 
California  has  changed  much  more  dramatically. 
SHEETS:   That's  true. 

GOODWIN:   It's  possible  to  say  that  the  fair  plays  less 
of  an  important  role  now  than  it  did  previously. 
SHEETS:   That's  right.   I  think  they  do  get  a  huge  attend- 
ance, but  I  don't  think  anything  like  we  did.   They  get  no 
real  national  publicity,  or  they  don't  have  the  impact  of 
getting  top  artists  out  and  that  kind  of  thing,  but  still 
they've  done  a  good  job. 

GOODWIN:   There's  one  development  I  failed  to  mention  when 
we  began  to  discuss  the  Pasadena  museum,  although  it  might 
have  been  slightly  premature.   That  is  the  development  of 
the  series  of  exhibitions  called  "California  Design."   It 
seems  that  in  a  sense  that  series  might  represent  an  out- 
growth of  your  House  Beautiful  exhibition. 
SHEETS:   Well,  I  think  that  that's  true,  and  I  think  that 
the  very  fine  woman  that  runs  that,  Mrs.  [Eudorah]  Moore, 
has  always  said  that  to  me.   Being  very  old  friends  to 
begin  with,  she  has  always  said  that  what  we  did  at  the 
fair  and  what  we  did  at  Scripps  was  the  same  kind  of 
exhibition,  but  on  a  smaller  scale.   It  was  the  basis 


on  which  she  built  her  whole  concept.   I  know  that  her 
spirit  is  very  deep  about  the  craftsmen  and  the  feeling 
that  they  have,  and  she  is  most  enthusiastic.   She  used 
to  be  a  juror  very  often  in  the  early  days  at  the  county 
fair,  and  she  attended  most  of  the  art  exhibits  at  Scripps. 
So  I  do  think  there  was  a  nice  relationship.   Of  course  what 
she  did  in  the  old  building,  the  Grace  Nicholson  building, 
some  of  those  exhibitions  were  absolutely  superb.   I  have 
a  little  feeling  as  time  has  gone  on  that  the  juries  look 
for  more  and  more  experiment  and  less  and  less  feeling  of 
relating  the  things  that  are  done  to  the  needs  of  the  com- 
munity.  Not  that  there  isn't  always  an  opportunity  and  a 
need  for  something  that  is  as  esoteric  as  some  of  these 
things  are,  but  I  think  it's  gotten  a  little  bit  out  of 
relationship.   That's  my  feeling  from  seeing  the  last  two 
shows.   But  I  think  it's  good,  it's  experimental,  and  it 
certainly  is  stimulating.   You  might  not  like  it,  but  it 
certainly  is  good  for  you  to  see  how  many  ways  people  can 
use  materials,  and  it's  good.   Some  of  the  great  craftsmen 
in  our  area,  people  like  Sam  Maloof  and  others,  have  been, 
in  the  past  shows,  very  important. 

I  don't  know  if  Sam  was  in  the  last  show  or  not.   He, 
by  the  way,  worked  for  me  for  four  years  as  my  assistant 
before  he  became  a  furniture  designer.   He  married  one  of 
my  top  graduate  students,  and  I  was  his  best  man,  which 
was  an  honor  that  I  loved.   We're  still  very,  very  close 


friends,  but  I'll  never  forget  the  day  about  a  week  after 
they  were  married  and  they  came  back  from  their  honeymoon. 
He  said,  "Millard,  I  want  to  design  and  make  furniture.   I 
want  to  do  it  full  time."   I  said,  "Well,  Sam,  I  think  that's 
marvelous.   When  do  you  want  to  do  it?"   He  said,  "Now."   I 
said,  "Well,  what  can  I  do  to  help  you?"   He  said,  "I've  got 
a  little  shop  that  I've  been  building  and  I  have  enough  money. 
As  you  know,  I've  spent  hardly  anything  since  I  started  working 
for  you."   He  was  a  very  thrifty,  very  clever  guy.   From  the 
first  day  that  man  started  making  furniture,  he  was  success- 
ful— not  only  in  desing ,  but  this  is  again  what  I  go  back 
to:   if  you  have  the  absolute  love  and  desire  to  do  some- 
thing for  people,  it's  contagious.   I  don't  know  any  human 
being,  really,  that  is  as  contagious  as  Sam  Maloof.   Sam  has 
friends  in  every  part  of  the  world.   He's  been  sent  all  over 
the  world  by  the  State  Department  and  other  departments  in 
the  government  to  teach.   He's  been  to  the  country  that  his 
family  came  from,  Lebanon.   He's  been  to  Greece.   He's  been 
in  Turkey.   He's  been  all  over  the  world  as  well  as  all 
over  the  United  States,  and  I  think  he's  been  to  the  Orient 
(I'm  not  sure  about  that).   He's  on  every  major  committee, 
including  the  [National]  Endowment  for  the  Arts  in  Washington. 
He's  one  of  the  most  involved  fellows  I  know  who  still 
primarily  makes  every  piece  of  his  furniture.   He  has  one 
or  two  assistants,  at  the  most,  who  do  sanding  and  oiling 
and  that  kind  of  thing,  but  Sam  does  everything  else.   He's 


exuberant  beyond  belief.   He's  an  avid  collector  of  beautiful 
things,  and  he's  become  so  articulate.   In  the  early  days 
Sam  was  afraid  of  his  own  voice.   Now  he  lectures  with  ease, 
and  he's  so  successful  because  he  only  talks  about  what  he 
knows.   There's  no  pretense.   There's  no  affectation.   It's 
from  the  gut.   A  great  guy. 

GOODWIN:   We  just  have  a  couple  of  minutes  left,  and  I 
don't  want  to  get  into  Otis  at  this  point,  but  you  served 
as  a  juror  throughout  your  career  at  exhibitions  outside 
of  the  county  fair. 

SHEETS:   Yes.   I  think  that's  been  probably  one  of  the  most 
important  things  to  happen  to  an  artist.   I  was  so  fortunate, 
I  think  I  told  you,  getting  into  the  Carnegie  International 
[Exhibition  in  Pittsburgh]  as  I  did  in  the  last  juried  show, 
which  helped  me  to  become  known  more  rapidly  than  many  of  my 
contemporaries  here.   The  result  is  that  when  they  thought 
of  balancing  a  jury  in  the  East  with  someone  from  the  West, 
I  was  invited  over  and  over  again,  which  meant  that  I  met 
marvelous  artists,  some  of  the  finest  in  the  United  States. 
I  could  just  name  you  a  list  that  you  wouldn't  believe  of 
the  top  painters,  in  every  facet  of  art,  not  one  school. 
The  experience  of  going  to  learn  and  to  see  and  to  exper- 
ience the  variety  of  things  that  were  presented,  and  then 
to  look  for  quality  regardless  of  style,  taught  me  at  least 
to  be  quite  catholic  in  my  taste  and  very  excited  about 
things  that  other  people  did  that  I  wished  to  hell  I  could 
say  I'd  done. 


GOODWIN:   What  are  just  a  few  of  the  places  where  you've 
been  a  juror? 

SHEETS:   Oh,  my  goodness,  Philadelphia,  Carnegie,  New  York. 
GOODWIN:   The  Metropolitan? 

SHEETS:   Yes,  the  Metropolitan  was  that  great  exhibition  of 
"Artists  for  Victory."   I  think  I  told  you  it  lasted  nine 
days.   Did  I  tell  you  an  experience  that  happened  in  that 

GOODWIN:   I  don't  think  so. 

SHEETS:   About  the  second  or  third  day,  Francis  Taylor,  who 
was  the  director  of  the  Metropolitan  Museum,  invited  a  mar- 
velous jury,  people  like  Eugene  Speicher  and  Franklin 
Watkins,  and  a  whole  group  of  really  good  painters,  repre- 
senting quite  a  variety  of  artists,  from  semiabstract 
painters  to  expressionistic  painters,  and  one  or  two  in  my 
general  category.   I  can't  remember  all  their  names,  but 
there  were  nine  of  us  on  the  jury:   Aaron  Bohrod,  Niles 
Spencer,  [Charles]  Burchfield,  Leon  Kroll  were  among  the 
group.   After  the  second  day,  as  we  went  across  the  street 
to  a  lovely  restaurant  for  lunch,  Francis  Taylor  said, 
"Millard,  I'm  worried  because  these  huge  pictures  that 
come  in,  many  are  mostly  blank  with  a  few  streaks  of  nice 
color,  and  they  overpower  a  painting  that  may  be  a  very 
beautiful  small  painting  of  a  head  or  a  very  subtle  land- 
scape.  They  look  like  something  that  happened  a  long  time 
ago,  and  they  look  unimportant  alongside  these  tremendously 


big  abstract  or  semiabstract  things."   He  said,  "I  think 
the  jury  is  overpowered  by  these  things,  and  maybe  many 
artists  are  not  getting  a  fair  shake."   I  said,  "Well,  I 
feel  that  way,  too."   I  said,  "What  do  you  have  in  the 
basement  that  people  don't  know  about  that's  important — 
maybe  a  great  postimpressionistic  picture  or  something  that 
hasn't  been  shown.   If  you  have  something,  we'll  run  it 
through  for  fun,  to  shake  everybody  up."   To  cut  a  long 
story  short,  we  went  down  in  the  basement,  after  we  hurried 
back  from  lunch,  and  found  a  magnificent  little  van  Gogh, 
about  thirty  inches  long  and  about  twenty  inches  high.   It 
was  a  little  on  the  grey  side,  but  an  exquisite  painting 
of  fields  in  Holland  and  Belgium  with  some  birds.   It  looked 
like  the  perfect  example.   And  I  said,  "Let's  run  it  through." 
Well,  of  course,  I  knew  it  was  coming,  and  I  said,  "Bring 
it  in  about  two-thirty."   There  was  this  long  line  of  men 
bringing  pictures  in  one  after  another,  and  finally  I  could 
see  it  coming.   We  voted  by  pressing  buttons  on  a  machine 
that  we  borrowed  from  the  National  Academy.   When  the 
picture  finally  came  up  on  the  easel,  I  remember  Eugene 
Speicher  was  the  chairman  of  the  jury,  and  he  said,  "All 
right,  gentlemen,  your  votes."   I  pressed  my  button,  and 
only  my  vote  registered.   The  picture  was  carried  away  and 
I  let  it  go  until  the  man  carrying  it  had  gone  about  thirty 
feet.   I  said,  "Gene,  could  we  look  at  that  last  painting 
again?"   When  the  picture  was  replaced  on  the  easel.  Gene 


Speicher  crawled  up  to  the  easel  and  said,  "Damn  you, 
Millard,  it's  a  van  Gogh."   Everyone  was  shaken  by  the 
experience,  and  I  can  assure  you  the  jury  moved  forward 
with  great  concern. 



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